Tolkāppiyar on Translation

agastya in London

Statue of Agastya in London V&A Museum

( I am publishing this article with the permission of Dr R. Nagasamy. He is a well known historian and a reputed archaeologist. He held the posts of Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu Government and the Vice Chancellor of Kanchepuram University. He has hundreds of research papers and scores of scholarly books to his credit. He is regularly writing for his blog Please visit for more interesting articles.)

Tolkāppiyar the great grammarian deals with translating texts from other languages to Tamil, in his chapter on Marabiyal. First he gives the definition of Valinul. ( derivative text) “Vāli enappatuvatu atan valiyākum.”

It means that Vāli nūl is a derivative text from an original text.(sutra 650 marapiyal 70)
Perāciriyar the commentator says that texts like Tolkāppiyam and Palkāppiyam are no doubt derivative texts. So according to this commentator Tolkāppiyam is not an original composition. He comments later that it followed “Agattiyam.”

Citing a verse Perāciriyar, says that it is the duty of Tamil scholars to follow Tolkāppiyar as he has almost ordered that though he has abridged the original text at places’ he outlines the tenet of the original text (Agattiyam ) and it is virtually an obligatory injunction. Perāciriyar continues. This author does say in the same vien the text of Palkāppiyar, or Palkāyanār which means the later can not be considered as authoritative as Tolkāppiyar.

The question arises when such an authoritative text by Tolkāppiyar exists what is the need for Palkāppiyar to write his work? To this Perāciriyar answers that Palkāppiyar also did not write all about “Ezuttu, Col, and Porul”.

This author Tolkāppiyar saw that Agattiyam had a more detailed treatment of Ceyyul prosody, he condensed the same subjec noting that it was important. Further he followed the science of the original text.

Statue of Agastya in Prambanan, Indonesia

Evidently according to Perāciriyar , Tolkāppiyar followed carefully Agattiyam. He also shows that Kakkaipādiniyar who wrote her text later, followed Tolkāppiyar. Perāciriyar questions the attitude of some Tamils saying what is derogatory if they followed an original text and translated it in their work.

Tolkāppiyam then divides secondary texts into four categories . The mode of secondary texts are four. Perāciriyar says that original text can be only one, but secondary texts can be many.

“Tokuttal, virittal, tokai viri molipeyarttal, atarpata yāttalotu anai marapinavē”

“Tokuttal” means the parts elaborately dealt with in the original text, is summarized for the benefit of small unlettered men. “Virittal “means that which are not clear in the original text are elaborated for making them understandable. “Tokai viri” means elaborating those parts both in summary and elaboration that are further enraged. “Moli peysrttal” means the text that were in other languages being translated into Tamil. That is also called Valinūl in Tamil tradition.” Perāciriyar is of the opinion that translated text (molipeyartta ) text is also a “Vali nūl”

“Atarpata yāttal” is conforming to conventions? The translation should follow the same layout of the Original. As translation follows abridgment and elaboration and further enlargement there need not be any fear for both the Tamils and also the Aryas. As this process is called translation -moli peyarttal- the meaning will not be faulted. Iit seems that there were some who opposed translations into Tamil claiming that Tamil language would be affected. Perāciriyar dismisses this apprehension. He assures the Tamils and the Āryas (Sanskritists) there is no likely hood of meaning going wrong.

” is there translated texts in Tamil among the derivative texts ? Is the a question poised. Perāciriyar answers that these are required.When Meanings of Vedic texts, Agamic texts and texts on logic are rendered into Tamil these texts serve as grammar for those texts ( Vedic, Agamic, and logical texts ). So Tolkāppiyar included translations also as derivative texts.” Says Perāciriyar .

Tamil Manuscripts collected by U.Ve.Sa.

We know from Col atikāram of Tolkāppiyar the Tamils were never against using northern words ( vada col ) and translations of Sanskrit texts like Vedas, Āgamas, and logical texts which included all scientific texts from any language. Perāciriyar goes further and states that Tolkāppiyam belongs to the middle Sangam age and as it is followed to this day this holds good for translating texts into Tami was not considered anti Tamil as held by some modern Tamils. And it also points out that the Tamils remained forward looking for the past two thousand years until we arrive at the second half of twentieth cent.

We have seen that Tolkāppiyar followed Agattiyar and wrote his work as a derivative text-Vali nūl. Agattiyar is said to have composed three texts on Iyal, Icai, and Nātakam – . Perāciriyar states that Agattiyar wrote three texts on Muttamil. Uvama Iyal comm.. By the time of Tolkāppiyam specialization in each Tamill had already been established and Agattiyar was the pioneer who wrote texts on all the three Tamils. Perāciriyar who wrote his commentary on Tolkāppiyam is assigned to 12thcent to the time of Vikrama chola mentions this in chapter on Uvamaiyal.

Pictures are taken from various sites;thanks:- swami