People say, "You have to bear it."
Don't they know what passion is like,
or is it that they are so strong?
As for me, if I do not see my lover
grief drowns my heart,
and like a steak of foam in high waters
dashen on the rocks
little by little I ebb
and become nothing.
Classical age of Tamil literature is known as Sangam age, began several centuries before Christian era. The works written during this period are featured by linguistic and literary perfection.
The most eminent works of the period include Tholkappiyam (treatise on Tamil language by Tholkappiyar), Ettutokai (eight separate anthologies, including the best poems of different poets) and Pattupattu (includes ten long idylls).
These works convey atmosphere of ancient Tamil culture, traditions and customs, concepts of life and concerns for life.
As the intrinsic evidences of these works testify, they were in a large measure governed by intuitive - emotional consciousness, and by implication the lives of the Tamils of the day had been built on the affections of the heart rather then on the mechanistic operation of the intellect.
There need not to be a conscious message or motive, but rather the particular world-view of the poet, the aspect of life portrayed, that is, the meaning of the poem, becomes the message."
The subject matter of these works has been classified into two broad categories, Akam and Puram, the former dealing with the intuitive - emotional experience of mankind and the latter with the extrinsic life of man, his experience in the world of men.
The Akam poetry occupies a unique place in the history of world literature in many respects. Perhaps, in no other language is available such a large corpus of poems on a single theme, composed in adherence to a set of pre determined codes. These poems are a vivid exemplification of the fact that one could achieve great heights in imaginative writing even if fettered by certain prescriptions and prohibitions. These conventions, paradoxically, are meant to give the poems which they define and inform, a sense of universality and timelessness.
One such convention is that the characters of Aintinai, men and women, should not be mentioned by any individual name, real or imaginary: They should be called by the names of the regions they belong to like natan, turaivan and so on or by the name of their professions like ulavan, ulatti etc, or their sex like atavan, nampi etc, or by the demonstrative pronouns avan, aval etc. Such conventions imply that the Akam poet should not pin down his characters to a given time and space. It also reveals the ancient Tamil's anxiety and care to create a cosmic poetry with cosmic men and women as characters, who could live the rhythm and joy of cosmic life.
Another unique feature of these poems is that they deal only with alive and the living. An anthropological myth of life permeates through the whole corpus. Each poem celebrates the joy and delight of the created universe. They are the living portraits of universal health and vitality giving as they do quintessential expression of the gushing delight of creation. That which is dead and gone is of no interest to the Akam poets; nor do they care about the supernatural. Such a conception might have been the offspring of their conviction that the subject matter of such timeless poetry should not be death and supernatural, the unliving and the uncreative, and that great poetry should be that which generates life, relieves and recreates the splendour and music of life, at the living moment. Each poem in the Akam corpus is in the form of a dramatic monologue, a self-contained whole, spoken by a particular character in a particular context, and yet all these poems constitute an organic oeuvre.
Kamil Zvelebil calls Akam poetry as "an aesthetic document of undying human significance", pure example of universal canons of art, such as "a healthy, creative balance of the masculine and feminine principles", "celebration of human emotional integrity", "portrayal of man's quest to see himself in creative partnership with the world of nature".
Dr. V. Sp. Manickam in his work "Tamil concept of Love" observes that Akam poetry is a literature of human sexual love, based on "essential principles of the sexual life".
As the Akam mind sees it, the relationship between man and woman, the emotional reality, in the central fact in actual human life. It is here that man realizes the complete fulfillment of his being. His inner peace and harmony depends upon the success of his emotional life. Tholkappiyar lays down that it is given of the wife to keep her man's honor and dignity, meaning thereby that the health and vitality of male purposive self remain secure when it is anchored in a fulfilling relation "at home"
David Halbrook in his study "The Quest for Love" observes: "Love, when we find peace in it, releases us to the world, to devote ourselves to effort of humanity. We go from the satisfactions we find in our love, children and home to give out in our work and for the community. The end of our quest for love is an escape from envy, in creative attitudes abroad, joy in the joy of others, and belief in the continuity of life.
Akam poets have conceived of the initial coming together of a sexually matured man and woman as the working of Pal (Destiny, Providence).
They have endowed this relationship with a cosmic perspective. It is larger then the earth, higher then the sky and more unfathomable then the ocean (Kuruntokai 3.), and it is intense, deep rooted and eternal too:
Be the earth displaced,
Be the water taste different,
Be the tumultuous sea fettered
Unaffected our love would be.
And there are a large number of impressively realized images that evoke, illustrate and endorse a profoundly sexual relationship between man and woman.
The Kurinchi poems are insistently and obsessively concerned with the fulfillment of the inner needs of man. The heart of the hero makes a heavy demand for the rebirth of his emotional self into the womb of woman. He is too completely overwhelmed by the flood of passion to remain poised:
. . . like a happy drunkard who wants but more and more
you crave just that
which you have already craved
The Kurinchi world in essence is a world of men who dance in blessed servitude to the dictates of their emotional self, and the Kurinchi heroes take it as marks of manly greatness to journey to their loves' places at the dead of night braving the vagaries of nature and men. They are willing to get the fire of their male strength and will subdued by the waters of female passion and tenderness.
But great poetry which the Akam poetry is cannot afford to give an all-inclusive treatment to a particular passion of life, however mighty and sublime that passion might be. Sex is under no circumstances viewed as the be-all and end-ell of life. Bringing the emotional faculties and that of mind into a complete harmony seems to have been the motive behind every poem.
Man represents "Motion", the dynamic principle in life. He is the creative vanguard of life; he must not only be a lover and a husband, but also a hero.
As the ancient Tamil mind conceives of it, man stands for intellect; nobility and courage are his chief characteristics; male ambition burns his very soul (Akananuru 377).
The Akam hero, under no circumstances, allows his maleness to be undermined by his emotional life. He is always the lord, doer (Akananuru, 155, 173, 351). He is hardly seen to be deferred either by the difficulties of his journey, or by the pathetic, loving persuasions of his lady or her confidant.
His male self triumphs over his lower, emotional self and he leaves on his mission. In spite of the imminent starvation of her physical and psychic being, the lady too recognizes the need for the fulfillment of her lord's creative self, and says that the feminine virtue lies in not putting impediments on his way (Narrinai 24). She is sad that they have not rightly understood the nature of their distinctive modes. The conflict in her is due this misunderstanding:
I wrongly thought
he would not leave:
and he wrongly thought
I would never agree.
We both made light of it.
Such is relationship between masculine and feminine principles the Aham mind has conceived of.
An Akam hero would cease to be a man if he does not have leaving blood relations with a woman, and he would cease to be a lover, if he does not have the passionate craving for purposive activity burning his soul. If there is a conflict between the 'man' and the 'lover' if one tries to assert at the cost of the other, the result is the undoing of the wholesome living. The hero is insistent that when he is on his creative quest, the sufferings of his wife in separation will not stand on his way. But once the work is completed, his emotional self takes other.
The conception of poetry as being constituted by three components namely mutal porul (place and time), karupporul (the objects of environment such as flora and fauna) and uripporul (the emotional behavior of the lovers) points to their deep-rooted conviction in the inseparableness of the lives of man and nature.
In Akam poetry the metaphors and symbols taken from the life of nature lend themselves to define and illustrate human life and relatedness. Thus the very terms kurinchi, mullai and so on have become synonymous with the respective emotional behavior of the lovers.
Literary conventions in Akam poetry, Kamil V. Zvelebil, Institute of Asian Studies, Madras, 1986