Dravidian Literature and its Development
Roots of Southern Culture
Works in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam languages primarily constitute the gamut of Dravidian literature. Generally believed to have roots in the Indian subcontinent, these languages possess a long and rich history of literary tradition. Tamil is known to be the oldest in the group of four and it is argued that Sanskrit considerably influenced its shaping and development.
The origin of Tamil can be dated back to the second century BCE. The most famous among the Tamil works is the Sangam literature, considered as the earliest in the Deccan and one of the oldest literary productions in India. It refers to the body of poetry focussing on diverse themes such as the monarchs, their acts of heroism, human relationships, love, religion, traditions and customs and other aspects of life. Sangam literature flourished under the Pandya rulers of Mysore and provides a window to the early elite Tamil society and polity.
Nannaya is the earliest known poet in Telugu literature and its work can be traced back to the eleventh century. Gona Budda Reddy, Srinathudu, Bammera Potana are some of the well-known Telugu poets who lived and worked across the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth century. The prime of Telugu scholarship is believed to be under the patronage of Vijayanagar kings, especially during the royalty of Krishnadevaraya. A sixteenth-century monarch, he patronised poets in his courts and is also credited for authoring the epic ‘Amukta Malyada.’
The work of Jain scholars on Tirthankars or spiritual teachers defined the early years of Kannada literature. ‘Dharmanatha Purana’—the biography of the fifteenth Tirthankar Dharmanatha, is one of the finest instances of Jain literary prowess. They found enthusiastic patronage from the dynasties of Rashtrakuta, Chalukya, Hoysala, Vijaynagar. Amoghavarsha I, the tenth-century Rashtrakuta ruler, is considered to have penned ‘Kavirajamarga’—one of the earliest Kannada texts. Pampa, Ponna and Ranna are the most famous ‘three gems’ of Kannada scholarship that lived, worked and contributed to the evolution of the classical language in the tenth century.
Classical Tamil and Sangam literature had impacted the development of the Malayalam language and literary compositions. ‘Bhasha-Kautilya’—an interpretive account of ‘Arthashastra’ is one of the famous examples of twelfth century Malayalam texts. Another example of growing literature practice is ‘Ramacharitam.’ It is a body of poems written in the thirteenth century concentrating on the war episodes in Ramayana. Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, a sixteenth-century Bhakti poet, is held as the ‘father of Malayalam Literature.’