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Two Genres of Verse


Sasanka Perera

FEMININE SPEECH TRANSMISSIONS: AN EXPLORATION INTO THE LULLABIES AND DIRGES OF WOMEN
By Selvy Thiruchandran
Vikas, New Delhi, 2001, pp. v-xii 88, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

Selvy Thriuchandran’s book is essentially a description and analysis of two types of verses from the oral tradition that used to be commonly sung by women in Sri Lankan Tamil society over time even though the popularity of these have diminished in more recent times. The types of verses Thiruchandran has focused on are tallattu and oppari, which are described by her as lullabies and lament songs respectively. In Sri Lanka, these types of songs are found generally in three locations: in the north among northern Tamils, in the east among Muslims who also speak Tamil, and in the hill country among Tamils of Indian origin. The common strand that runs through these verses is the language, despite its regional variations and in some clear cases the differences in experiences depicted in the lyrics as well. Thiruchandran suggests that women’s verses in the oral tradition such as tallattu and oppari should be viewed from the perspective of four broad areas: 1) women’s role as performers, 2) how women use these verses, 3) women’s specific creativities being conditioned and constrained by their social environment, and 4) women’s verbal arts being part of the subjective consciousness of the self (2001: 3).   According to Thiruchandran’s analysis, tallattu as lullabies fulfils a number of functions. These include the immediate purpose of putting a baby to sleep while they are also sung when a baby is being breast-fed allowing the baby to concentrate on her feeding (2001: 8). In addition, these songs also open an outlet for mothers to openly express certain desires, which includes the love for her children as well as concerns for their safety and expectations of their future (2001: 11). In this context, tallattu are ‘confined to a particular time and space, and to a gender category’ (2001: 2). These verses are usually sung by mothers and female members of a child’s kin group within the private domain, while they are directly linked to childhood in terms of their contents (2001: 2). Nevertheless, Thriuchandran points out that tallattu can move beyond the confines of the home, and to a more public realm such as the field or the market in situations where women take their children to these spaces (2001: 2).   In Northern Sri Lanka, tallattu were mostly secular in content, and they expressed deep emotions and kinship ties across members of extended families (2001: 15). In addition, they also retain the traditions of other Tamil literary creations in the way similes ...


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