International Workshop on the Internal and External Chronology of Tamil Bhakti

Organised by the centre of the École Française d'Extrême-Orient in Pondicherry, 17th to 26th of August 2009





Tamil devotional literature (bhakti) comprises quite an enormous oeuvre of texts with different sectarian affiliations. Apart from some precursors in early classical literature, the first millennium sees the advent of a Shaiva corpus, later canonised and named the 12 TirumuRai, and a Vaishnava corpus, the Tivviyappirapantam. Dating, as for most early Tamil texts, is a problem that has raised some amount of discussion. In brief one can say that the traditional approach to the matter is largely based on the transmitted legendary material, such as the life stories of poet-saints (Naayanmaar and Aazvaar) found in the 12th-century Periya PuraaNam and Divyacuuricaritam respectively. While hagiographic material still is being read for its depiction of contemporary religious ideology, its usefulness as a historical source has much been debated. Modern scholarship has developed a number of strategies to deal with a situation where reliable first-hand information is almost totally absent.

For textual scholars internal chronology will be their main concern and here we can distinguish three basic approaches, namely linguistic, rhetorical and comparatistic. The linguist will look to arguments concerning the development of the Tamil language. Roughly speaking, classical Tamil underwent fundamental changes in a number of respects. A morphologically unmarked (or at any rate under-marked) syntax relying on word order and particles slowly turned into a morphologically marked syntax with relatively free word order, a process that can be shown to be well on its way in most of Tamil bhakti literature. Morphological changes are too numerous and too complex to be enumerated here, but two obvious examples are the development of a present tense and a shift in the use of personal pronouns. For both areas, that of syntax and that of morphology, detailed studies, especially of a statistical nature, are to this day missing, so that current descriptions of the changes can not be much more than impressionistic.

The student of literature will analyse the metrical structure, the lyrical genre and the rhetorical devices employed in his texts and here fortunately the situation of research is better. At least as far as the Vaishnava corpus is concerned, the presentation given in Hardy's ground-breaking study of Viraaha bhakti looks upon the whole convincing, though questionable in details. And as a form of general caution we ought to add that, just as in the case of the early classical anthologies, in part it might be problematic to assume that the religious single texts present integrative wholes; in part we might be faced with not totally homogenous collections attributed to single authors.

The comparatist, finally, will read his texts in a perspective with other texts, earlier and later, in Tamil and in Sanskrit, and he will try to unravel intertextual relationships. Here again much has been said of a general nature, as to the roots of Tamil bhakti in earlier classical poetry, of Akam and PuRam genre, but very little of the technical details of transfer have been described. Yes, Tamil bhakti poets do take over Cankam formulae and themes, even syntax, but how exactly do they do it, and which effects might they have tried to achieve? Verbal echoes can be found, but are they to be seen as continuations within the rhetoric repertoire or are they deliberate references or even quotations?

A slightly different situation presents itself to the historian or the historian of art who is in general dealing with datable material and thus more likely to be interested in external chronology. The historian works in a two-directional net of cross-references, on the one hand those references bhakti texts make to actual temples, historical persons or events and the like, and on the other hand those references found in epigraphic texts to (or even quotations from) bhakti texts. Do such occurrences allow for an integrative picture of the development of Tamil bhakti and in how far do those text-external factors match with the text-internal ones and with the findings from linguistic and literary analysis?

In the field of art history, both iconographical texts and representations point towards a specifically South Indian bhakti culture. Some of the themes common to the Teevaaram or Tivviyappirapantam and to carved images are indeed found first and/or only in South India. In combination with other archaeological data (mainly inscriptions) that enable us to give approximate dates for the sculptures, such correspondences may allow us to explore some of the chronological issues of the corpus. The wealth of illustrations of the Periya PuraaNam that one may find in temples underlines the importance of this text for sculptural art.

The Pondicherry workshop intends to work on two levels. Out of the two-weeks seminar, seven days will be devoted to common reading sessions of particular text passages selected and introduced by individual scholars. These sessions will be split into one morning and one afternoon part, the duration depending on the length and complexity of the chosen text and the intensity of the general discussion. The last three days will be devoted to personal presentations, distributed over three panels (Shaiva, Vaishnava, history). Here the time allotted to each presentation will be 45 minutes (30 minutes lecture and 15 minutes discussion). We invite contributions on any of the above-mentioned issues.

The French institutions in Pondicherry and the centre of the EFEO have a long tradition of engagement in the history of Indian religions. Apart from their involvement in the history of Sanskrit Shaiva Tantra there also is quite a list of important publications in the Tamil field:

  • GROS, F. 1968: Le ParipaaTal. Introduction, traduction et notes. IFP, Pondichéry.
  • FILLIOZAT, J. 1972: Un texte tamoul de dévotion vishnouite - le Tiruppaavai d'AaNTaaḷ. Traduction, introduction. IFP, Pondichéry.
  • FILLIOZAT, J. 1973: Un texte de la réligion Kaumaara : le TirumurukaaRRuppaTai. Traduction, introduction. IFP, Pondichéry.
  • FILLIOZAT, J./KARAVELANE 1982: Kaaraikkaalammaiyaar. Edition, traduction, introduction. IFP, Pondichéry.
  • GOPAL IYER, T.V./ GROS, F. 1984, 1985, 1991: Teevaaram. Hymnes Shivaïtes du pays tamoul. Edition, introduction, glossaire. IFP, Pondichéry.
  • SUBRAMANYA AIYAR, V.M./CHEVILLARD, J.-L./SARMA, S.A.S. 2007: Digital Teevaaram. KaNinit Teevaaram. Collection Indologie n° 103, IFP / EFEO, Pondicherry 2007 [CD-ROM].


Preliminary Programm

Schedule for the bhakti workshop (17th -25th August)

9.-10.30 a.m. morning reading session 1

10.30-11 a.m. coffee break

11-12.30 a.m. morning session 2

12.30 a.m.-2.30 p.m. lunch break

2.30-4 p.m. afternoon reading session 1

4-4.30 p.m. tea break

4.30-6 p.m. afternoon reading session 2

Workshop (17-26 August)
[Morning reading sessions from 9-12.30 a.m. (with coffee break)
Afternoon readong session from 2.30-6 p.m. (with tea break)]

17 m.+a. G. Vijayavenugopal (Cankam-related material)
18 morning G. Vijayavenugopal (Cankam-related material)
afternoon Emanuel Francis (the Pallavas in TE and DP)
19 m+a Jean-Luc Chevillard (meter)
20 m+a Eva Wilden (TVM 2.1, 6.1, 10.3, 4.8, 5.3, 6.2, 6.7)
21 morning Leslie Orr (Teevaaram 1.133 on Kacci Ekampam, and Teevaaram 3.53 on Tiruvanaikka)

afternoon Katherine Young (PTM 2.9 on Parameccura Vinnakar, PTM poems on Srirangam 5.4 - 5.7)
24 morning free
afternoon discussion with the visiting ECAI team
25 m+a Valérie Gillet (TiruparaGku_nRam: Parip. VIII. 1-37,VIII. 125-130, XIX. 1-29, XIX. 58-66, XIX. 95-105, XXI. 1-17, XXI. 66-70)
26 morning group: Kaaraikkaalammaiyaar

Presentations (26-28 August): 40 min. presentation + 20 min. discussion

26, morning 2: 9.45-12.30 a.m.
Welcome Address: Dominic Goodall
R. Varadadesikan (EFEO Pondicherry): "Vaishnava Tamil Literature"
?. Manikantan (Chennai University): [meter]

26, afternoon: 2-5.30 p.m. (with tea break)
R. Varadadesikan (EFEO Pondicherry): "Vaishnava Tamil Literature"
G. Vijayavenugopal (EFEO Pondicherry): "Bhakti Movement and Cankam Literature"
R. Sarawati Sainath (McGill University): "The PuRam Ethos in the Sixth TirumuRai of Appaar's Teevaaram"

27, morning: 9-12.30 a.m. (with coffee break)
Dominic Goodall (EFEO Pondicherry): "Shaiva Theology in the Teevaaram"
S. Kulasekaran (Chennai): "Nammalvar's period a defining moment in the History of Vaisnavism"
K. K. A. Venkatachari (Chennai): "Aazvaar's Tamil Bhakti hymns travels through Srimad Bhagavatam and Stotra Literature"

27, afternoon: 2-5.30 p.m. (with tea break)
Jean-Luc Chevillard (CNRS Paris): "Meters in Bhakti Literature and the Problem of Their (Eventual) Description in Treatises"
T.S. Gangadharan (EFEO Pondicherry): "Ciivaka CintaamaNi's Contribution to Periya PuraaNam"
Eva Wilden (EFEO Paris/University of Hamburg): "Transposition Techniques in Nammaazvaar's Akam Songs"

28, morning: 9-12.30 a.m. (with coffee break)
A. Pandurangan (Pondicherry): "Trends in Saiva and Vaisnava Bhakti literature"
Emanuel Francis (University of Louvaine, Belgium): "The Pallavas in Bhakti Literature"
Charlotte Schmid (EFEO Paris): "Archaeology, Epigraphy and the TirumuRai: the cases of Tirucennampunti, Puncai and Tirumankalam"

28, afternoon: 2-5.30 p.m. (with tea break)
Leslie Orr (Concordia University, Canada): "The Sacred Landscape of Tamil Saivism: Constructing Connections and Plotting Place"
Katherine Young (McGill University, Canada): "Negotiating Srivaisnava Identity, Canonizing Place"
K. Rajan (Pondicherry): [burial practices]



Jean-Luc Chevillard (CNRS Paris): "Meters in Bhakti Literature and the Problem of Their (Eventual) Description in Treatises"

One of the most visible features of the bhakti corpus seems to be the almost exclusive use of the stanzaic form, whereas in the ETTut Tokai stanzas are found only in the AinkuRunuuRu. There is indeed no codification for the use of stanza form inside the CeyyuLiyal of the Tolkaappiyam (T), although ILampuuraNar manages to explain under TP484i that this form of composition falls under paNNatti (first mentioned in TP482i). (Peeraaciriyar, however, has a different interpretation.) In doing this, ILampuuraNar presents, in a nutshell, the 12 items called paavi_nam, often called "auxiliary metres", for which the standard treatment is found in the Yaapparukkalam (YA) and the Yaapparunkalakkaarikai (YK). We can be certain that this not very homogeneous classificatory grouping, which has some of its roots in the kali genre, and on which an exploration of the Cilappatikaaram can also throw light, came into being after the T but before the time of the YK and YA (to be followed by the Viiracooziyam), because a large commentary, called the Yaapparunkala-Virutti, while explaining the paavi_nam described by the YA, quotes fragments from the lost works of early theoreticians. To the above must be added the consideration that there appears to exist a strong correlation inside the bhakti corpus between the use of various types of stanza and the use of various musical modes (or paNs), if we are to believe S. Subrahmanyan [1977:361-364]. Numerous pieces of information about this correlation are also found in the 15th section (pp. 375-421) of the Teevaaram Aayvut TuNai (1991, PIFI 68.3), jointly prepared by T.V. Gopal Iyer and T.S. Gangadharan. The present paper will attempt to trace the lineaments of this complex corpus.

Emanuel Francis (University of Louvaine, Belgium): "The Pallavas in Bhakti Literature"

The aim of this paper is to present a critical overview of the available sources concerning the connection between the Pallava dynasty and the Tamil Bhakti of the Naaya_nmaars and AA_lvaars. I will be interested successively with hymns from the Teevaaram and the Tivviyappirapantam, inscriptions from the Pallava corpus, sculptures from the Pallava royal temples, and temple sites (in order, in this latter case, to assess the correspondence between Pallava royal sites and hymns sites).
My conclusion will be that, in spite of a conception, explicit or implicit, of a close relation between the Pallava dynasty and the Tamil Bhakti, there is few argument supporting this view.

T.S. Gangadharan (EFEO Pondicherry): "Ciivaka CintaamaNi's Contribution to Periya PuraaNam"

Umaapaticivam (not the Civaacaarya) who composed Ceekkizaar PuraaNam condemns CiivakacintaamaNi as the story of the fraudulant and crafty Jains. ( muraTTu amaN tiruTTu-p-puraTTu-c-cintaamaNi). However this paper tries to refute this claim and tries to present the real situation and demonstrates that CiivakacintaamaNi is indeed a fore runner and a model for the composition of PeriyapuraaNam.

Dominic Goodall (EFEO Pondicherry): "Shaiva Theology in the Teevaaram"

S. Kulasekaran (Chennai): "Nammalvar's period a defining moment in the History of Vaisnavism"

Leslie Orr (Concordia University, Canada):
"The Sacred Landscape of Tamil Saivism: Constructing Connections and Plotting Place"

The Saiva sacred landscape of the Tamil country is made up of numerous sites where Lord Siva's presence is manifest. Many of these places receive mention in the hymns of Tevaram, composed in the 7th-9th centuries by the three poet-saints Campantar, Appar, and Sundarar. Other sites are important to Saivas for different reasons. In this paper I will explore the variety of ways that the Saiva sacred landscape has been mapped, from the times of the poet-saints up until the 15th century. I will consider the representations and relevance of sacred landscape in Tevaram, in the 12th-century Periya Puranam (which depicts the poet-saints as pilgrims in a network of sacred places), and in temple traditions (which link places together or forge associations between the temple site and the saints), as well as in the inscriptions engraved on the temple walls. By tracing chronological change, and by comparing the perspectives presented in these various sources, I hope to understand how the tradition accommodated a diversity of definitions of the religious landscape and to discover if and how the mapping of sacred space contributed to the consolidation of this sectarian tradition.

A. Pandurangan (Pondicherry): "Trends in Saiva and Vaisnava Bhakti literature"

Before the dawn of bhakti movement we have a few poems praising cevveeL (Muruka_n) and Tirumaal (ViSNu) in ParipaaTal. From these poems we find that each group adhered to their own godhead as the Supreme being. But they did not clash among themselves claiming that their own deity is the Supreme being.
At the dawn of the bhakti movement the same attitude continued. The first three Aazvaars and the Saivite Naaya_naar, Karaikkaalammaiyaar who was the predessor of the Teevaaram hymnologists, sung their own God as the Supreme being. The early Aazvaars even attempted to unite Hari and Hara. Similarly Kaaraikkaalammaiyaar equally praises ViSNu in some of her poems.
The next generation of Aazvaaars and Naya_nmaars conducted a virulent criticism against the non-Vedic religions. When they gainend the support of the ruling kings they achieved their target very easily. When their goal was achieved simmerng voices erupted between between the Saivaites and the Vaishnavites. TiruJaa_nacampantar made it a point to denigrade ViSNu in most of his patikams in the ninth hymn. Tirunaavulakaralar and Centarar followed his path. MaaNikkavaacakar went one more step in denigrating ViSNu.
In a similar fashion Aazvaars paid back their contempt against "Siva. By using the legendary stories which are by nature contradictory they tried to uphold their own God as the Supreme being. This paper attempts to discuss the nature of these trends in the Saiva and Vaishnava bhakti movement.

K. Rajan (Pondicherry): [burial practices]

R. Sarawati Sainath (McGill University):
"The Puram Ethos in the Sixth Tirumurai of Appar's Tevaram"

Of the many myths of Siva, Appar refers to nearly fifty-seven in his sixth Tirumurai. Of these, I will discuss the following: (1) Siva destroys the three demon cities (Tripurasamharamurti); (2) Siva kills Yama (Kalasamharamurti); (3) Siva roams as a beggar (Bhiksatanamurti); and (4) Siva appears androgynous (Ardhanarisvaramurti). I argue that Appar's selection of mythic motifs mirror puram aesthetics. To support my argument, I will show parallels between these myths and the Purananuru. I think that Appar's admiration of the puram ethos enabled him to cultivate within himself, the heroism of the puram. By becoming courageous like the puram kings, Appar was able to withstand the trials in his life. His trials combined with his Tamil bhakti poetry enabled Saivism to become the religion of the masses.

Charlotte Schmid (EFEO Paris): "Archeology, Epigrahpy and the TirumuRai: the cases of Tirucennampu, PuJcai and TirumaGkalam"

R. Varadadesikan (EFEO Pondicherry): "Vaishnava Tamil Literature"
The paper presents the data in two parts Viz., 1.Ancient period(From 2nd century 2nd Cent.A.D. 2. Modern period (From 7th century onwards. The paper points out that in the ancient period there were no epics on Vaisnavism but only stray verses. However the Cankam period and the period immediately following it throw much light on the supremacy of Visnu and His qualities, sports, incarnations, his omniscient state etc.,His vehicle Garuda, His bed Adisesha were referred to in Paripatal.Only five holy shrines of Visnu in Tamilnadu find place in Cankam literature. Onam festival and a few other festivals are described in the ancient period. Some stories connected with Rama which are not found in the present Ramayanas are mentioned in Cankam literature.Coming to the Modern period one notices that Alvars' hymns enrich Vaisnava literature between 6th century and 9th century. Here instead of stray verses we find groups of verses viz., patikams consisting often poems which glorify Visnu.After 9th century epics on Visnu and His sacred sports dominate in Vaisnava literature. Of them Kambaramayanam, Villipputturar's Bharatam, Nallappillai's Bharatam are remarkable. Besides these there are more than 70 works written in various centuries. Of them Astaprabhandam is worth mentioned.

K. K. A. Venkatachari (Chennai): "Alvar's Tamil Bhakti hymns travels through Srimad Bhagavatam and Stotra Literature"

Srimad Bhaagavatam is greatly influenced by Aazvaar's Bhakti literature. Without mentioning the names of Aazvaars it mentions about Aazvaar's birth places like TaamraparaNi,Kaaviiri and Paalaar rivers. In Bhaagavatam the portion of Krishna's birth could be compared with Periyaazvaar's first decad which describes the KrishNaavataara. There are many more places with similarity between Aazvaar's hymns and Bhaagavatam. After Bhaagavatam , Yaamuna's Stotraratna, Kåresa's Panchastavam, Paraasara Bhaññar's Srirangaraajastavam have impact of Aazvaar's divyaprabhandham. Vedaanta Desika who had devoted two works on Tiruvaaymozi in Sanskrit giving the gist of Tiruvaaymozi of Nammaazvaar. In the paper these points and other important points will be provided in detail.

G. Vijayavenugopal (EFEO Pondicherry): "Bhakti Movement and Cankam Literature"

Eva Wilden (EFEO Paris/University of Hamburg): "Transposition Techniques in Nammaazvaar's Akam Songs"

The Tiruvaaymozi counts, according to Hardy 1984, no less then 26 decades of Akam songs among its more than a thousand poems. 24 of them occur in Hardy's table of distribution and classification. Even so this is almost a quarter of the whole text. In fact, however, depending on how one understands the word ‘Akam song', several more decades ought to be included, perhaps at least as many as 27. What, then, is an Akam song? It is a bhakti poem where the relationship between god and devotee is depicted along the lines of the model of lover and beloved developed by classical Tamil Akam poetry. Usually god takes the position of the male lover, the devotee that of the female lover. The general opinion is that the basic bhakti Akam poem is an adaptation of the Mullai setting. In fact we can observe three things. Firstly, tiṇai elements are imported on a much broader basis, and if there is a preponderance, it is for Kuṟiñci. Secondly, bhakti stereotypes only a small number of Akam situations, creating on the way some new and some mixed forms. Thirdly, intertextual repercussions are much less marked with the classical heritage than within the bhakti corpus itself, one obvious reason for that being the decade composition principle.

Katherine Young (McGill University, Canada):
"Negotiating Srivaisnava Identity, Canonizing Place"

Among the many Vaisnava temples in Tamil Nadu are the beloved places (divyadesah; ukantarulinanilankal). These are conventionally understood as 96 of the 108 places praised by the alvars between the seventh century and the ninth. In this paper, I will show how the concept of 108 beloved places evolves from epithets, devotional Avisions,@ and place names in the alvar hymns to enumerations in works by Amutanar, Pillaipperumalaiyyankar, and others. More specifically, I will discuss the significance of the sacred number 108, its relation to the process of canonization of the alvar hymns, and its effect on regional identities within Tamil Nadu. To account for variations among the lists, I will look to Pancaratrin and Vaikhanasa priests, Tenkalai and Vatakalai acaryas, authors of sthalapuranas, movement of images to a new temple, and so forth. Finally, I will examine how some temples that were left out of these lists have tried to negotiate temple status to attract patrons and pilgrims.