Tamil love poetry: the five hundred short poems of the ainkurunuru.

Author:Pechilis, Karen
Position:Book review

Tamil Love Poetry: The Five Hundred Short Poems of the Ainkurunuru. By MARTHA ANN SELBY. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2011. Pp. 195 + xii. $84.50 cloth; $27.50 (paper).

In this beautiful book, acclaimed translator Martha Ann Selby provides us with a complete, updated translation of the Ainkurunuru, a classical Tamil anthology of love poetry. This anthology is one of the earliest five of the eight anthologies of poetry that constitute the first literature in Tamil, dating between the first and third centuries C.E. The Ainkurunuru is longer than the other early classical collections of Tamil poetry, which contain 400 poems apiece, including the three collections of love poems entitled the Kuruntokai, the Narrinai, and the Akananuru, as well as the collection of poems of war, the Purananuru. It is also set apart from these anthologies by the small number of poets who contributed to the anthology--only five, as compared to 150-200 poets each for the other collections. Selby argues convincingly for the special coherence of the Aitikurunuru: "We know from the colophon that the text was a ara imperial commission and its compiler was Pula-t-turai Murriya Kutalur The Airikurunreu is, in fact, not an 'anthology' in the same way in which its sister anthologies are. The structure of the text as a whole is deliberate, and it is clear from the way in which it is assembled that its commissioner had a specific plan in mind, and that the compiler carried out the commissioner's orders to the letter. ... I would argue that these five brilliant [poets] formed a short-lived atelier" (p. 4).

A marker of the text's distinctiveness and coherence is that it reorders the sequencing of landscapes and matching lovers' moods that are a central element of classical Tamil poetry. The early Tamil grammar, the Tolkappiyam, describes the order as kurinci (usually a clandestine meeting of the lovers at night in the mountains), neytal (usually the lovers' separation and suggestion of abandonment, indexed by the seashore), palai (usually the hero traveling across a wilderness to elope with or marry the heroine), mullai (usually married heroine waiting for her husband's return from a journey in the evening), and marutam (usually jealous quarrelling between husband and wife related to his perceived infidelities). The Airkurunuru devotes one hundred poems to each of these themes, in ten sets of ten on a specific theme. However, the...

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