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Extraordinary Child

Extraordinary Child: Poems from a South Indian Devotional Genre

PAULA RICHMAN
Copyright Date: 1997
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr525
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  • Book Info
    Extraordinary Child
    Book Description:

    For hundreds of years Tamil poets have been composing devotional texts in which they adopt the voice of a mother and address praises to an extraordinary child. The poems, called pillaittamil (literally "Tamil for a child"), form a major genre of Tamil literature. Since the twelfth century, when the first known pillaittamil was written in honor of a Chola king, many of these poems have been composed in praise of Murugan and South Indian goddesses, as well as saints and venerated monastic abbots. In recent times pillaittamils have been dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, the Virgin Mary, and Baby Jesus, as well as notable political figures and moviestars. Extraordinary Child provides a sampler of translations from, and analysis of, seven pillaittamils of particular religious, aesthetic, or political significance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6244-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
  3. ILLUSTRATIONS AND TABLES
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  5. PART ONE: HOW TO READ A PILLAITTAMIL

    • CHAPTER ONE EXTRAORDINARY CHILD
      (pp. 3-25)

      The South Indian devotional poetry called the pillaittamil is a genre built of multiples: multiple verses, multiple sections, multiple poems, and multiple religious affiliations. This genre always contains a particular sequence of poetry found again and again, but never in quite the same way. In a pillaittamil, the poet assumes a maternal voice to praise an extraordinary being (deity, prophet, saint, or hero), envisioning him or her in the form of a baby. The pillaittamil moves through ten sequenced sections, each of which usually contains ten verses, adding up to one hundred (or slightly more) verses. What has made this...

    • CHAPTER TWO ASKING FOR THE MOON, TAMING THE TIGER
      (pp. 26-50)

      The moon(ampuli)paruvam provides an excellent example of the aesthetic of virtuosity that plays a large role in pillaittamil composition. In this paruvam the poet must address his poetry directly to the moon, using various forms of cajolery or intimidation to convince the moon to act as playmate for the extraordinary child.¹ According to Tamil literary tradition, moon verses pose the greatest challenge to the poet who seeks to write a pillaittamil. As the saying goes, “Among the paruvams,ampuliis the tiger.”² That is, among the ten paruvams, poets find the moon paruvam the hardest to master. A...

  6. PART TWO: PILLAITTAMILS FOR READING

    • CHAPTER THREE THE FLORESCENCE
      (pp. 53-80)

      The pillaittamil genre began to flourish with the composition of Pakaḻikkūttar’sTiruccentûr Piḷḷaittamiḻ(henceforthTCPT). While several extant earlier texts contain some or almost all of the features characteristic of the pillaittamil genre,TCPTis the first fully articulated devotional pillaittamil and stands at the beginning of a long line of successors.¹ Later poets and connoisseurs praisedTCPTand measured their own work against it. Pakaḻikkūttar set out certain poetic strategies for particular paruvams. Later poets built upon, elaborated, ignored, embellished, subtly transformed, and pushed these strategies to their limits. Essentially, Pakaḻikkūttar’s text established the pillaittamil as a productive genre....

    • CHAPTER FOUR A TEMPLE AND A PILLAITTAMIL
      (pp. 81-111)

      In the seventeenth century Kumarakuruparar composedMaturai Miṉaṭciyammai Piḷḷaittamiḻ(henceforthMMPT) and presented it toTirumalai Nāyakkar, ruler and patron responsible for a major set of renovations on the Mīṉāṭci Cuntarēśvaraṉ Temple in the city of Madurai. Pillaittamil connoisseurs cherishMMPTfor its mellifluous verse and the subtle imagery with which the poet describes the life of Goddess Mīṉāṭci and her marriage to Lord Śiva. The poem also has come to be intimately bound up with the devotional practice of the temple, in both artwork and music. Considered to be one of the finest pillaittamils ever written,MMPThas been...

    • CHAPTER FIVE THE HINDU MONASTIC MILIEU
      (pp. 112-129)

      No single English term or phrase can adequately describe the role that T. C. Mīṉāṭcicuntaram Piḷḷai (henceforth Pillai) played in nineteenth-century Tamil literary culture. He began as a child prodigy gifted at composing verse, matured into an astonishingly prolific poetscholar, and won reverence in his old age as a literary mentor. He was a champion in rhetorical and grammatical debate, poet laureate at Tiruvavatuturai Monastery, and—not least—a pillaittamil writer. Because his most gifted disciple wrote a lengthy biography of his spiritual preceptor, a detailed account of Pillai’s life exists.¹ A look at Pillai’s education and his place in...

    • CHAPTER SIX A PILLAITTAMIL TO MUHAMMAD
      (pp. 130-157)

      By choosing to write in the pillaittamil genre, Tamil poets within the Muslim tradition located themselves in relation to the Islamic culture of southeastern India, while simultaneously broadening the scope of the pillaittamil tradition. Seyyitu Aṉapiyyā Pulavar (henceforth Aṉapiyyā), deployed the pillaittamil genre in his nineteenth-century poem,Napikaḷ Nāyakam Piḷḷaittamiḻ (A Pillaittamil on the Foremost of the Prophets)in order to praise the Prophet Muhammad. The requirements of the paruvam structure shaped the way he portrayed the Prophet. Conversely, the influence of Islamic theology, which prohibited regarding God as a baby or addressing the Prophet Muhammad as a divine being,...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN ONE POET’S BABY JESUS
      (pp. 158-177)

      For centuries the image of Baby Jesus has played a crucial role in Christian tradition. Veneration of the infant Jesus began in the early Middle Ages and received a major boost in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from the Cistercians and Franciscans. Thus, it seems natural that a Tamil Catholic would find the pillaittamil a particularly appropriate genre for expressing love of God. Several Christian pillaittamils have been composed since the mid eighteen-hundreds, one of which was written in 1985 by Aruḷ Cellatturai of Tirunelveli.¹ We are fortunate that he has given us his own account of writing the poem.²...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT POETRY OF CULTURAL NATIONALISM
      (pp. 178-204)

      The vast majority of pillaittamils are religious texts composed by authors affiliated with established religious communities.¹ In the first quarter of this century, however, some poets wrote pillaittamils not to express institutionalized religious devotion but to articulate and praise selected “secular” political figures and ideologies. By 1925 a pillaittamil to Mohandas Gandhi appeared, followed by several others to him over the years. Then came a pillaittamil to Bharati, the nationalist Tamil poet, and another to C. Rajagopalachari, one of Gandhi’s most influential supporters in South India. In an-other arena, as appeals for the assertion of regional, especially Tamil, identity won...

  7. PART THREE: REFLECTIONS ON PILLAITTAMILS

    • CHAPTER NINE THE FRUITS OF READING PILLAITTAMILS
      (pp. 207-228)

      Over the centuries the pillaittamil genre has attracted many writers and literary connoisseurs. When I asked practicing pillaittamil poets why they found the genre compelling, they recounted the pleasures of composing poems about children while maneuvering within particular paruvams. Their answers corroborate evidence about poetic practices in earlier centuries. Both suggest that the pillaittamil presents poets with a clearly circumscribed subject (the extraordinary child) and a well-articulated poetic structure (the paruvam framework), within which they find challenging opportunities to compose inventively. The paruvam structure offers multiple ways to express devotion to the winsome child, to invoke the aid of particular...

  8. APPENDIX: DESCRIPTIONS OF PILLAITTAMILS IN TEXTS ABOUT POETICS
    (pp. 229-236)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 237-268)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 269-280)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 281-297)