Natalie Savelyeva

Concepts of Aham and Puram in Sangam poetry

The entire subject matter of poetry may be divided into two main genres: akam or akapporul, and puram or pirapporul.

akam the meaning given are "inside, house, place, agricultural tract, breast, mind", it occurs in all south Dravidian languages + Tulu and Telugu. This in itself should be rather relevant. In the cultural and literary spheres, it also means "inner life", "private life" and, more specifically, "All aspects of love", i.e. premarital, marital and extramarital love.

puram is "outside, exterior, that, which is foreign", again, the conceit occurs in all south Dravidian languages + Tulu and Telugu. In reference to literature it means "outward life, public life, political life" and more specifically "heroism, war"

The fundamental features of akam genre highly conventional poetry, the heroes should be and are fully anonymous and typified, their number in limited to the hero, the heroine, the hero”s friend, usually his charioteer, the heroine”s friend, usually her foster–sister and/or maid, the heroine”s mother. Under akam in its two basic divisions of kalavu (pre–marital love) and karpu (wedded and extramarital love), the classical Tamil poet succeeded to describe the total erotic experience and the total story of love of man as such.

In contrast, the heroes of the puram are frequently individualized as concrete, historical persons (kings, chieftains, the poet himself), the drama described is based often on a single, historical event. However, there is strict conventional framework for the heroic poems.

From the total corpus of classical Tamil poetry, about a quarter may be ascribed to puram, and about three quarters to the akam genre.

Love may be well–matched or ill–matched. Well–matched love is treated in poems describing a man”s and woman”s love experience against the background of the five basic physiographic regions, the story of human love takes part in one of the five landscapes, known technically as aim "five" + tinai "landscape" or aintinai. To each of these landscapes corresponds a particular phase of love.

Ill–matched love is again of two basic kinds: unequal, inappropriate or mismatched love or passion, technically known as perutinai or "The major Type" (is it irony?). E.g. the poems under this head deal with a man”s passion which has grown out of proportion, or with a young man”s passion for a woman much older, or with forced union due to unrestricted passion. It is the forced, loveless relationship, partners come together for duty, convenience or lust.

The other major type of ill–matched love is one–sided, unreciprocated passion, known as kaikkilai, i.e. "The Base Relationship" E.g. love between a man and a maid who, being too young and unripe, does not know how to react to his feelings, his love becomes unrequited.

These two types are common, undignified or pervaded, they are fit only for servants. According to Tholkappiyam 25–26, and Ilampuranar”s commentary, only free men can lead a happy life. Servants and workmen are outside the five akam–types, for they cannot attain wealth, virtue and happiness, they do not have the necessary strength of character, they are moved only by passion and impulses. Only the cultures and well–matched pair is capable of the full range of love union before and after marriage, separation, anxiety and patience, betrayal and forgiveness. The lovers should be well–matched in lineage, conduct, will, age, beauty (or figure), passion, humility, benevolence, intelligence, and wealth (Tholkappiyam 273).

The attitude of the theoreticians towards different types and phases of love is neither purely descriptive nor fully normative (prescriptive). It may perhaps called "evaluative".

According to some theoreticians, akam proper is divided along with a basic dichotomy between premarital union of lovers, termed kalavu, lit. "stealing, deceit", and wedded, marital love, called karpu, lit. "chastity". This binary division has been elaborated especially in Iraiyanar”s Akapporul Kalavu, prewedded love, is treated in terms of the five landscapes, while the poems coming under karpu describe marital and extramarital love, including the separation (pirivu) of the husband and wife on account of six different seasons – pursuit of learning, pursuit of wealth, service of the king, being engaged in the protection of the country, being engaged in the diplomatic mission, especially in the appeasement of two inimical kings, and, finally, on account of indulging in harlotry. The author of Akapporul shows keen observation of human behavior when describing what sort of men do leave their wedded wives – thus e.g. it is proper for the high class men (according to the commentator, for the Brahmins and ksatriyas) to leave their wives because of the pursuit of learning (otal, learning and reciting the Vedas) and protecting the land (kaval), to serve the king and to gain wealth is proper for the merchants and peasants (velalar), but to leave (temporarily, of coarse) one”s wife in order to indulge in harlotry is appropriate to all classes of men (IA 40). Observe the fact that visiting harlots (parattai) comes only after the division of karpu or wedded love.

Concepts of Space and Time in Sangam poetry

The universe is perceived (katci) and conceived (karuttu) in terms of three basic categories a space and time continuum which provides the basic background, the space and time coordinates of an event, this is termed mutal, lit. "first, basic things", fundamental aspect, the basic stratum. The time continuum is divided into perumpolutu or the major seasons of the year, and cirupolutu, lit "small time" i.e. the minor times of day and night. The space continuum, comprising the "five elements" of Indian philosophy (earth, water, fire, wind and sky), is divided into the five physiographic regions, the five major landscapes in which the drama of love takes place. Each one of there landscapes corresponds to a phase of love – the hills are a proper setting for the union of lovers, the forest corresponds to patient waiting, the seashore to long and anxious waiting, the pasture lands provide a setting for treatment and infidelity, and the wasteland for a long separation.

The second major category is termed karu, lit "things born" or "native", this provides a framework in terms of concrete representations of the five major themes (phases of love, physiographic regions). There is, first, the basic division into Gods and Nature. Nature is subdivided into Human and Nonhuman nature. Under human beings, the tribes and their chieftains are treated, and also the occupations, arts, ways of life, customs, musical instruments etc. Nonhuman nature is animate and inanimate – the two main representatives of animate nature are beasts, while under inanimate nature are described the typical trees, flowers, objects, forms of water (whether a mountain–rivulet, a broad river, the sea, ponds, waterfalls) etc.

Finally, he third major category is termed uri, lit the "proper, specific" aspect, that is the essence of poetry, this deals with the innermost psychological events, with the drama of human soul and hearts, this is the inner and external life, the behavior of the heroes, their feelings, deeds and situations.

We will deal in some detail with the three categories of mutal, karu and uri. The first division of the space and time continuum, as just indicated, concerns the appropriate time of an event.

There are six seasons, six major times of the year:

  1. kar or the rainy season (approx August–September),
  2. kutir or Winter (October–November),
  3. munpani or "early dew" (December–January),
  4. pinpani or "late dew" (Februaty–March),
  5. ilavenil or the season of "young warmth" (April–May),
  6. mutirvenil or the season of "ripe heat" (June–July)

There are also six minor times of day and night (six by four hours) – dawn, sunrise, midday, sunset, nightfall, dead of night. These categories provide the space–time coordinates of an event of love.

Table 1 shows five phases of love corresponding to the five types of landscape – union of lovers and immediate consummation corresponds to hills, domestic life and patient waiting of the wife is described under mullai or forest (and pastures), anxiety and impatient waiting under natal or seashore, infidelity of the man under marutam or agricultural tracts, and elopement and separation under palai or wasteland.

Five Landscapes

As we may see, considering both kalavu and karpu, pre–marital and wedded (plus extramarital) love, and both well–matched and ill–matched union, the theory provides for a minute description of the entire gamut of human erotic experience, for the total love–experience of man and woman.

Table 1 Uri – Phases of love in correspondence to the landscapes

Phase of loveLandscape
Union of loversKurinci – Hills
Domesticity, patient waitingMullai – Forests
Lover”s infidelity, sulking scenesMarutam – Cultivated fields
Separation, anxious waitingNeytal – Sea–coast
Elopement, hardships, separation from lover or parentsPalai – Wasteland

The earliest, most comprehensive and elegant description of these five tinais is given by Nakkirar in his Commentary on just two words of the Ist sutram of Iraiyanar”s Akapporul (anpin aintinai "the five situations of love"). He bases his expose on tradition and on the Tholkappiyam which he quotes whenever necessary. After an engaging and charming discussion of what is anpu "love", Nakkirar asks "What does aitinai mean?" And his answer to this question is a brilliant treatment of the theory of the five physiographic regions and the five basic love–situation.

First he gives the five terms in the order kurinci, neytal, palai, mullan, marutam (quoting Tholkappiyam 3), he adds at once that these are discussed in terms of mutal, karu and uri. Mutarporul is of two kinds – place and time (Tholkappiyam 4). According to Nakkirar, however, palai or the "separation" situation has no proper place (nilam) corresponding to it.

For confirmation, Nakkirar quotes Tholkappiyam 5–10 and adds that all the six seasons of the year must be appropriate to marutam and neytal since no particular seasons are mentioned.

Nakkirar gives then a detailed list of concrete natural representations (karu). Karu, he says (quoting Tholkappiyam I8 as authority), is "god, food, beast, tree, bird, drum, occupation, lyre and other items."

Table 2 shows the various representation, the attributes of the five tinais, the elements of the karu–strata, how they are usually found in the texts.

Nakkirar turns then his attention to the urupporul, and, quoting Tholkappiyam I4, makes the following statement – sexual union of lovers, punartal, is the kurinci–phase (situation, separation), pirital, is the palai–phase, waiting, iruttal, is the mullai–phase, anxiety, irankal, is the neytal–phase, sulking, utal, is the marutam–phase.

At the end of his discussion Nakkirar refutes the one–sided conception of tinai as either "region" (nilam) or "situation" (olukkam, lit "conventional rules of conduct"), tinai is not "either or" but "both", Nakkirar says is quite explicitly – tinai is both region and situation, "like the spot on which the light (cutar) of a vilakku (lamp) falls, is also called "vilakku" (light).

Table 2

Name of the region and poetic nameKurinciMullaiMarutamNeytalPalai
LandscapeMountainsForest, pastureCultivated countrysideSeashoreWasteland
SeasonCold season, early frostRainy seasonAll seasonsAll seasonsSummer, late dew
HeroPoruppan, verpan, cilampan, natanNatan, tonralUran, makilnanCerppan, pulampanVitalar, kalar, mili
HeroineKuratti, koticci Manaivi, kilatti Kilatti, manaivi Nulaicci, paratti Eyini
PeopleKuravar, kanavar Itaiyar, dyar Ularar, kataiyar Nulavar, paratai, alavar Eyinai, maravar
OccupationGuarding millet fields, honey gathering Pastoral occupation, field workAgricultureDrying fish, selling saltWayfarers, robbery, fighting
Pastimes Bathing in water–falls and streamsBull–fight, kuravai danceBathing in ponds, festivals, arts Bathing Dancing, fighting
SettlementsCirrur, cirukutiCirrur, patiPerur, muturPakkam, pattinamKurumpu
WatersWater–fall, hull–pondPond, rivulet River, pool, well Well, sea, salt–marchesWaterless well, stagnant water
BeastsMonkey, tiger, bear, elephantDeer, harcBuffalo, freshwater fish, otterCrocodile, sharkWild dog, tiger, lizard, elephant
BirdsPeacock, parrotJungle hen, sparrowHeron, stork, swanSea–gull, marine crowDove, eagle, kite, hawk
TreesTeak, sandal, bamboo, jackKonrai, waterlily, red kantal, pitavamMango, lotusPunnai, talai–shrub, muntakam, atampuUlinai, oman, cactus
FoodMillet, mountain–riceVaraku, tuvaraiRiceFish
InstrumentTontaka–drum, mountain luteErru–drum, forest–luteMana–drum, kinai, field–lute Pampai–drum, vilari luteUtukkai–drum, desert–lute
Melody typeKurincippanCatari MarutappanCevvaliCuram
God Murugan Mayon (Tirumal) Intiran VerunanKorravar (Kali)


Kamil Zvelebil "The Smile of Murugan. On Tamil Literature of South India", Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1973