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World of Tamil Word

Nirmala Sitharaman

By A.R. Venkatachalapathy
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2012, pp. 292, Rs.795.00


The birth of the Tamil Book, if it indeed can be narrated, it is here and comprehensively done at that, by Venkata-chalapathy. Backed by meticulous research, at times with finer details verging on the fastidious, the writer has done a yeoman service to the world of the Tamil word. The author’s interest in history and literature, peppered by his curiosity about evolving technology, wrapped with the colourful sheaths of reading practices and tied up with an analysis of patronage and policing of the printed word are offered here. Patronage has always been an issue for literary production, all over the world. The traditional forms of patronage which existed, evolved and eventually evaporated, giving way to subscriptions and other forms of public support are narrated in good detail. By the late 19th century—replacing the zamindars, the Mutts and monastries—writers and publishers were proactively seeking the educated class to subcribe or buy books, ‘especially the classics’. The author observes: ‘The age of traditional patronage was on its way out and the contribution of the professional class lay in making the breakthrough for the middle classes to take over publishing.’ There is an elaborate and interesting account of sirappu payiram or sattrukavi. Literally, sattrukavi means the certifying poem. Venkata chalapathy feels that the Tamil sirappu payiram or sattrukavi ‘...functioned like the ‘exordium’ of Latin rhetoric and the invocation of Rennaisance epic poems...’ However, in Tamil Nadu, this practice provided more than just certification; these prefatory poems almost sanctified the work and its author. It is interesting to note that in Tamil Nadu, this practice was in vogue in early medieval times and was codified in the twelfth century grammatical text Nannool. Set in verse, these payirams or the certifying notes, ‘usually elaborated in flattering terms on the standing, the lineage, tutelage, and scholarly abilities of the author, as well as the importance of his text and subject matter. References to the patron who had commissioned the work were quite common.’ However, even though as a practice, printing sattrukavis entered the twentieth century, they disappeared soon after. The author draws on an observation that Tamil Thatha (The Great Sire of Tamil) U.V. Swaminatha Iyer makes in his autobiography: ‘In those days most printed Tamil books had no preface. Because I felt it would be of use to readers, I planned to write a preface which could form part of the ...

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