Archive for June, 2010

Classical languages, political agendas

Semozhi Aana Tamizhmozhiyam” blazes off the A R Rahman theme number composed to celebrate the conferment of classical status to Tamil. This ancient south Indian language, is now placed in equal extolled pedestal with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. A recent conference showcasing the antiquity, refinement and maturing of the language in the cultural, social, political and religious backdrops of its evolution was held in the city of Coimbatore. The conference captured the essential richness of language’s heritage and its vast literary traditions while scholars debated, dissected and endlessly devoured the sweetness of the innumerable works created in it. As the theme music played on every lips and reverberated on every hearts, Connoisseurs and commoners alike basked upon the fathomless beauty and glory of their tongue to their soul’s content.

To be called classical, a language should satisfy a set of most exacting criteria to which only a handful of the world’s languages qualify. First, it should be ancient, even dating back to antiquity and second, it should have an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own and not as an offshoot of another one. Thirdly, it should possess a vast and extremely rich ancient literature that is unique to it conforming to complex grammatical and literary patterns. And Tamil lives up to each of these benchmarks in ample measure and much beyond. The earliest stone inscriptions in the language dates back to 300 BC and judging by the maturity of the language used therein, it can be safely  said that its existence preceded these inscriptions by at least a thousand years. The language arose purely as an independent tradition not influenced by any other language streams and its literary repertoire is indescribably vast and rich. From the Tollkappiyam,  the Thirukkural and the Manimekalli to the modern works, Tamil literature exhibits a profound subtlety, complexity  and immense variety with underplaying universality in its themes. These characteristics make it all the more suitable to be called a classical language.

While Tamil flourished over the last few millenniums, another Indian classical language also achieved great literary advancement in the very same geographical region of southern India. Right from the beginning of the first century AD, Sanskrit achieved remarkable progress and made immeasurable contributions towards enriching the philosophy, culture, literature and music of the region through the works of the likes of Sayana, Vedanta Desika and Govinda Dikshita. Also, all the three proponents of the three main Indian philosophical streams of Dvaita, Visistadvaita and Advaita, namely Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya and Adi Sankara have their great volumes of work composed in Sanskrit language and all of them flourished in South India. Their commentaries or Bhashyas on Vedas and Upanishads are today the treasure chest of great Indian heritage as they stand unparalleled, both for the beauty of their compositions as well as for their profound philosophical thoughts. This contribution of the Sanskrit language in South India also extended to fields like mathematics, astrology and astronomy as the works of the stature of Baskaracharya illustrate.

When two great languages vibrantly thrive in close proximity, it’s but natural that they influence and get influenced by one another resulting in the evolution of a composite and highly refined literary traditions that paved the way for the emergence of the most sublime philosophical ideas expressed in flawless language. The Shivaite and Vaishnavite literature propagated by the Nayanars and Alwars   stand testimony to this confluence of thoughts. What is more, the origin and development of the language of Malayalam is the result of this happy and joyous inter-mingling of two great classical languages.

But when political considerations overtake historical truths, when narrow chauvinistic agendas indulge in mindless glorification of the one to the suppression and strangulation of the other, what we get is a truncated and often disfigured replica of an otherwise glorious past. The misplaced enthusiasm of some of the so-called custodians of the Tamil language and their intolerance to an equally vibrant Sanskrit literary tradition has caused immense agony to a large section who pride in their composite and highly refined cultural traditions.

“The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth, from whatever source it is heard” wrote Thiruvalluvar, the great Tamil poet (Tirukkural – 423) and the hardcore Tamil enthusiasts would do well to revisit his works before they indulge in rampant denouncements of the other classical traditions to which they also are the rightful heirs.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. To view the A R Rahman theme song click at the link given below

June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm 9 comments

Where stones breathe

stones breathe click here to see pictures.

In his eternal quest for immortality, man has been continuously struggling with various mediums to lend an aura of permanence to his creative expressions which seeks to capture that elusive idea called “The Absolute”. Long after the physical frames turn to dust and much after they fade away from the memories of their loved ones, the kings and emperors of the yore used these mediums to remind their ideals and aspirations to generations on end. Through the verbal traditions of folklores, through stylistic prose and eloquent poems set to haunting music and through colourful and enchanting murals, these rulers deployed myriad techniques to communicate to posterity, the values they cherished and the valour they displayed in fending and fostering a culture and thereby a civilization. Without the active royal patronage of these art forms, most of them would have been extinct by now leaving us poorer of many a rich and vibrant tradition.

But when seeking an awesome permanence that outlives the onslaught of invasions, the battering of natural disasters and the silent ravages of time, the rock has remained the chosen medium to tell a thousand tales. The sturdy granite imbibes in it the carefully crafted carvings, the chiselled figures and the intricate ornamentations to capture every shade of human emotions and a canopy of animate and inanimate objects that together communicate, in grand eloquence, gripping stories of a bygone era.  In these sculptures are chronicled the triumphant march of kingdoms, the conquest of hearts and minds through philosophical ideas and also etched are efforts to answer searching questions on existence here and hereafter.  Though they show signs of withering, the sublime thoughts they invoke are as profound today as they would have been centuries ago as these stones silently breathe a vital life force that leave one invigorated.  

But behind these panoramas of supreme craftsmanship are the untold tales of sufferings, of humiliations and of corporal punishments meted out to the thousands of artisans and workers who toiled to bring them to shape and to life. They worked as slaves for their masters who administered inhuman treatment and were kept on bare minimum requirements for existence. Morsels of food were the only remuneration and more often death was the punishment for any lapse on their jobs. There could be exceptions, but the physical and environmental conditions in which these crafts were created   all point to a high degree of authoritarianism that brook no lenience.

As we pay tribute to their crafts through these pictures, they also remind us of the human tragic stories to which these stones are totally silent.

Yours

Narayanan

June 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm 5 comments

Inside 2622- Tamilnadu Express

The surging forward movement of the locomotive delivers rhythmic vertical strokes to the body while the chugging berceuse synchronised perfectly to the coaxing and cajoling horizontal swings transports the mind to a state of transcendental bliss.  The rocks of the moving train massages every nerve of the human anatomy that there isn’t yet a swing comparable to its magic that instantaneously puts your senses to a long spell of suspended animation. Though not sure if any medical researcher has worked on the subject, I feel  strongly that a train travel would be an ideal course of treatment to anyone suffering from bouts of insomnia. However sleep deprived one be in static life but in a train journey, you could sleep till eternity.

While the harmonic musical shake will put you to extended periods of slumber, the kaleidoscopic panorama of the view seen through the window would keep you wide awake throughout.  The rapid alternation of the scenes, from the lush green mellows to the long stretches of barren hinterland to the occasional site of a winding river, the nature, through its bountiful variety, casts a spell of awe and wonderment that doesn’t bestow the eyes the luxury to wink. And as you are charmed by the ever changing beauty of the flora that whizz past you, a bewildering  diversity of human beings that form part of the altering landscape would equally bowl you over. From a semi-clad solitary farmer negotiating his bullocks on the field, to the hoards of bejewelled ladies forming the part of a marriage convoy, to the rows of little girls carrying head loads of twigs, to the idling elders on the charpoys smoking their hokkas to glory, the spectacle of the human species and their myriad daily chores are indeed a treat that one cannot turn his sight from. And if all this is not enough to keep you awake, the sight of appalling poverty that characterise the setting of a railway platform would knock out any vestige of drossiness left in you.

Between these contrasting  backdrops that alternatively keep you in deep quiteuide and in expectant alertness, the engaging conversations with fellow passengers could be an intellectual stimuli. As many of you would have experienced, a verbal exchange with the co-traveller typically begin with the offer of a cookie and quickly turn very intimate and even personal as the travel progresses. A very comfortable topic that everyone around enthusiastically pitches in would be on the state of the political affairs of the country with each dissecting the reasons why the current dispensation is the worst that could have happened to the nation. This will not be complete without an eloquent self-appreciation of the virtues of our democracy and equally loud denouncements of our neighbour’s affairs. As the discussion gets animated, few passengers open up to share their personal data and even carry forward their travelling acquaintance to their grounded lives. And for the more enterprising lot, a game of cards and a round of chilled somethings make the journey a very memorable one.  With all these happening, there isn’t a dull moment in an Indian train journey.

It is now dark outside and inside passengers are spreading their beds after a sumptuous shared dinner. With the descend of a certain silence, it’s time for me to get caressed to a rocking sleep on the lower side berth and  the Rehman number “ Cheya Cheya” wafting from the ipod  of the upper berth traveller is damn intoxicating.

Yours

Narayanan

June 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm 4 comments


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