Post No. 8406

Date uploaded in London – 26 July 2020   

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Tolkappiam is the oldest Tamil book according to most of the Tamil scholars. It is dated between first century BCE and first century CE. At least 2000 years old. Its author is Tolkappiar. But his real name is Truna Duma Agni Maha Rishi according to the most famous Tamil commentator Nacchinarkiniyar.  Madurai Nacchinarkiniyar is well respected for his commentaries on most of the ancient Tamil books.

Tolkappiar even mastered Vedic Pratisakyas (pronuncialtion Guide for Vedas) and Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. Dr P S Subrahmanya Sastri (1890-1978)  gives  interesting information in his book “History of Grammatical Theories in Tamil and their relation to the Grammatical Literature in Sanskrit” (first published in 1934.)

What is Praatisaakhya?

Praatisaakhya is related to Siksa /phonetics and the study of sabda sastra of the various Vedic recensions, it examines Vedic sounds .


The possibility of Tolkappiyanar having had for his model the works noted below for the sections noted against each —

First and second sections of Eluttatikaram dealing with the initial and final vowels and consonants and the medial consonants in Tamil words . similar sections in Praatisaaakhyas in general and  Rig Veda Pratisakhya in particular

Third section in Eluttatikaram dealing with the place of production of k, n, c, n, t, n , p ,m etc. similar sections in pratisakhyas in particular

Itaiyiyal in Collatikaram – it is compared with first chapter in Yaska’s Nirukta

Uriyiyal in Collatikaram – similar to second and third chapters of Yaska’s Nirukta


Similarity between Eluttatikaram of Tolkappiam dealing with the origin of speech sounds and certain verses in Panini



Ayta eluthu is Asrita or Visarga

Ayta letter – ஃ (three dots)

Visarga in Sanskrit — : (two dots)

Dr P S S says,

“ I am glad to find recently that  M J Vinson has written in 1916 that AYTAM is related to the Visarga of which it is, without doubt , only an adaptation, though he seems to be confronted with the difficulty from the statement of Tamil grammarians on the authority of Nannul that its origin is in the head and is pronounced with the mouth fully open. This clearly shows that the Tamil Panditswith whom he came in contact with had ignored Tolkappiam. If they had thought of that work , they would have certainly told the learned professor that its origin depends upon the sounds in whose company it appears (Tol.Elu.101) and then he might easily have inferred that , since it follows a vowel  and is followed by a voiceless explosive consonant, it could not be a complete open sound. Besides if he had noted that Aytam was represented by Visarga in earlier days , it would have strengthened his inference to a considerable extent.

(Pandit M Raghava Aiyangar says that it is related to Visarga ; see Tolkappiyarum Pulliyeluttum, page 153, Centamil Vol.25)

He (Vinson) derives the word Aytam from the Sanskrit word AAYUDHA and also states that he did not know any example of Aytam outside the grammars.; the former point is disproved by the opinion of late R Swaminatha Aiyar noted below. As for the latter many examples are found in Sangam works

Cf. Paஃruli manalinum (Puram), Iஃxhtiyam iranta paricil (Puram 145), Eஃkuru viluppun (Puram 233), Yaankaஃtuntena (Puram 319)

Similarly the Rev. Dr G U Pope is of the opinion that ‘it may be an imitation of Sanskrit Visarga and it is used in the poetry only’. but now it is used in prose also. For instance the word aஃtu, iஃtu are used if they are followed by words commencing with a vowel , as aஃtu inke illai etc.

The late Mr R.Swaminatha Aiyar  said in one of his lectures delivered in 1925 under the auspices of the Teachers Guild, Madras, that there is coincidence between  the term Caarpeluttu applied to Aytam in Tamil grammar and the term Parasritau applied to Jihwamuliya and Upadhmaniya in Paniniya Siksa, and hence thw word  Aytam is the tamilised form of Asrita.”

PSS adds,

“Another point deserves to be noted as regards the origin of Aytam, it is not found in Telugu and Canarese (Kannada), nor in pure Malayalam words. Even in Tamil it is not indispensable letter since it can be replaced by its succeeding letter”.

Tolkappianar says that aytam is one of the secondary sounds and appears in the middle of words after a short vowel and before a voiceless consonant followed by a vowel (Tol. Elu.38) and also its place of production is determined by that of the consonant in whose company it is. It is classed by him neither as a vowel nr as a consonant. This is perhaps due to Panini not having classed ‘jihvaamuuiiya’ or ‘upadhmaaniiya’ as a vowel or a consonant.

My comments :

Ayta letter is perhaps Tolkappiar’s invention or his Guru’s (Agastya). It is peculiar to Tamil. No other ancient language except Sanskrit has something similar to this. Scholars in comparative linguistics also maintain silence about this letter!!

tags — Aytam, Tolkappiar, Visarga, Pratisakhya


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