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A Short History of Metaphysical Tamil



The Metaphysical Tamil-1


Dear Prof  Antonio


Thank-you for your request about the major metaphysical treatises in Tamil. I believe that these texts do not yet belong to the mainstream Indological studies for a variety of reasons  . I  also believe that our understanding of  Hinduism and Indic traditions will be quite different if these texts are also taken into consideration  along with Sanskrit and Pali texts.


With this preliminary let me give in a nutshell the essences of the major books with approximate dates and where we can also discern a historical continuity that dates back to the Sumerian times.


Tolkaappiyam ( c.300BC)


This is the oldest extant Tamil text, a grammatical treatise that is divided into three major books, Ezuttatikaaram ( On Phonology) Collatikaaram ( Syntax and Semantics) and PoruLatikaaram( On Meaning in Existence). The Third book is the most essential and it is understood that syntactic and phonological studies are subservient to the PoruLatikarram, the study of MEANINGS that configure human existence as a whole.  Tol. seizes upon the notion of “Speech Act’ ( Ta. KuuRRu) and analyses both the natural language( vazakku) and literary language ( ceyyuL) in order to understand the various intentional meanings that configure the various events in life, the activities of people that make up existence as we know. It also incorporates  a study of  gestures and other body languages that come along with the verbal ( KuRippu Mozi). It is only on the basis of such studies that behavior is grouped into Akam( the inside or domestic) and PuRam ( the external, the public) and which are further divided into various ecological grounds where pervade the deities Muruka VishNu VaruNa Indra and so forth configuring their essences. It is this ecological thinking that later led to the development of Ataara Cakras,  the metaphysical realms configured  by mantras also with a Deity as the ordaining power.


The treatise also has ascan appendix another one , Marabiyal and in which we have the presence of the VarNa concepts. I think  this text is earlier than Tol. proper as many archaic elements are found there.  However the most important aspect of this text is that it has  the earliest statement on Indian Logic  which is already recognizable as Hermeneutic Logic with its circular structure. I believe that Nyaya Sutras is not only an adaptation of this logic but also something that  introduced some distortions. The original shape  was later recovered by Meykandar and used as the essential Logic of metaphysical studies in his Civanjana Botham.


The last sutra of this text is concerned with literary hermeneutics,  the art of understanding a text without errors and where the INTENTION of the author is seen as it is with the application of utties ( otta kaaci utti). Kaudilya’s Artha Sastra also incorporates a similar list of utties ( Sk. Ukti) showing that both are taping the same  ancient tradition. I have pointed that this notion of utti, the movement of understanding in the direction of greater clarity dates back to the school pedagogy of the Sumerian edubba, the tablet house, the elementary schools for children.


I have translated some of sutras and all are collected together at the following website:


TirukkuRaL ( 200 AD-  400 AD)


Of all the philosophical books in Tamil this is the most famous and belongs to the eighteen KiizkaNNu texts produced during the post CaGkam period. Another famous book, a Jaina one is Naladiyar but probably belonging to the 8th cent AD or so. KuRaL outlines for the first time ‘samayaatiitam’ the transcendence of religions  so that it is claimed by people of all Indian religions as their own book.  KuRal stands neutral  both in ideas and  descriptive terms so that it cannot be classified as belonging to any religion, Jainism Buddhism Saivism VaishNavism so forth but at the same time appealing to all by its universality. It also introduced a novel metre, the KuRaL VeNba, just a terse verse with two lines and altogether there are 1330 verses divided into  ARattupaal ( On Dharma) Porutpaal ( On Politics) and Kaamattuppaal ( On Love) . There are already any websites devoted to this book. It has been also translated into all the major world languages. This book is immensely alive to this day and has become the Bible or Bagavath Gita of the Tamils including the Christians and Muslims, an interesting phenomena by itself. No one can understand the essence of Tamil culture unless they grasp the essence of KuRaL, written by VaLLuvar , a low caste in later times.


This text also constitutes a watershed between the essentially secular CaGkam and the  Bakti epoch that produced an enormous range of Bakti literature that constitutes the Teyvat Tamil, the Divine Tamil and which constitutes the foundation of the religious life of at least the majority of Tamils to this day.


Naladiyaar, also a famous book has been translated into English and some other languages. There are  400 verses collected together and these verses are said to have been written by various Jain monks. Most of them speak of nilaiyaamai, the transient character of human existence. They also contain deep insights into the dynamics of human life.


The Bakti Literature (300 AD to 900 AD)


While CaGkam epoch produced the massive collections of essentially secular poetry, the Eight Anthologies, the Bakti period produced the Divine Tamil, the Saivite Tevaram and VaishNava Divvya Prabantam, altogether numbering about 16 000 verses the bulk of them being Saivite.  Among the VaishNava Mystics we have Namazvar whose Tiruvaymozi is the foundation of Sri Vaishnava tradition and which  honors it  more than even the Vedas. The Tevaram Adangkan MuRai contains the hymns of Sambantar Appar and Sundarar among whom Appar is the earliest ( c. 6th cent AD) and Sambantar his younger contemporary. This was the time the polemics with the Jains and Buddhists were at the highest and there was a tremendous cultural turmoil as a result of which Saivism and VaishNavism became triumphant again with the consequent decline of Buddhsim and Jainism.


Now among the earlier Nayanmars and Azwars such as Punitavati and Poykaiyar, we see the ancient tradition of NOT separating into Saiva VaishNava sects and quarrelling which is greater and why. There is a unitary Saiva-VaishNavism present in their thinking and where both speak of both families of icons with equal reverence. Now I am studying some of their texts translating into English with commentaries.


Some earlier studies are available at the following website:


Tirmular certainly belongs to this period (c. 7th cent) and who wrote the massive Tirumantiram with three thousand verses. Since he deserves a detailed presentation, we shall do that in the next posting on this series.




The Metaphysical Tamil-2


The  Tirumantiram of Tirumular


This is the book by the famous Tirumular. A massive one with 3000 verses with some interpolations adding up to 3069 in the standard edition.  It is divided into 9 Tantras or Agamas but it must be said that the organization is quite flexible with no strict order among the different Tantras. But it is the most fascinating book to come down from the ancient world containing within itself many elements from the deep past and with no books dealing with them surviving except for this.  The word ‘mantra’ occurs in Tolkaappiyam as species of literature but we do not have any coming from CaGkam epoch.


Now there are many mythological tales about Tirumular as is the case with many significant figures in India and which are quite ridiculous to say the least. From internal evidences we can gather that he was a shepherd or a cowherd but drawn to mysticism and living in TirvadutuRai Adheenam or some Mutts composed these verses within a strong Saivite atmosphere.  The verses employ a peculiar but very elegant meter the like of which are found only  in some KizkaNakku or post CaGkam classics and hence the date perhaps around 5th-6th century. I think also that he is earlier than Appar Sambantar and so forth because there is NO combating the Buddhists or Jains. Whatever it is,  he is definitely before the 8th cent AD as he is mentioned by name Sundarar in his list of Nayanmars.


Each Tantra has its own importance.


The most famous expressions that are quoted often as the essence of Saivism are from here: Anbee Sivam (Love is Siva), OnRee kulamum Oruvaneeet teevanum (There is only one caste and there is only One God), Yaan peRRa inbam peruka ivvaiyakam (let the world enjoy the joys I have enjoyed). He also claims that Siva graced him with good health and so forth so that he can bring Siva into the Tamil words in clearer terms than before.


The first Tantra is similar in spirit to the ethical literature of 2nd-4th cent. AD and deals with many such issues overlapping with them in many places. But it contains the Upatesam of 30 verses and which is a neat summary of his whole philosophy. These verses have been isolated and studied as a text complete it itself. I have translated all the verses into English and you can read it in the TirumaRai Campus.



The second deals with meanings of some basic mythologies and it is here we see what I call Hermeneutic Semiotics making its appearance, a science that was further developed by the Tamil Siddhas of later times. Most of the basic elements in Hindu mythologies are described and given meanings along with some metaphysical notions related to them. The metaphysical insights are arrived at through interpreting the root mythical themes.


The Third Tantra deals with Yoga of various kinds including the Astangka Yoga of Patanjali. It is interesting that Tirumular claims personal acquaintance with Patanjali of the Yoga Sutras though the Yoga disciplines he deals with are more comprehensive than that of Patanjali. Included here are many aspects of neurosciences that are developing only now in the West. A fascinating part is his studies on how the various bodily postures and gestures (mudras) can in fact reach the deeper layers of the human mind, the Unconscious and with that also gain metaphysical insights, not obtainable otherwise.


The Fourth Tantra is the a very important treatise, in fact the largest we have with more than 600  verses dealing with Mantras, Yantras and Tantras. Here too we find the very ancient Mother Goddess worship but given Mantra explanations.

I have translated a few verses from this book and you can read it below:


The Fifth Tantra deals with the different schools of Saivism that existed in his time. He also notes that the differences arise due to differences in intellectual tuning of the different individuals some preferring the ritualistic ways and others the metaphysical and so forth. It is here that we have the first occurrence of the expression Saiva Siddhanta and it’s meaning in a nutshell.


The Sixth Tantra is quite philosophical but deals mainly with the elements of Guru worship but where for Tirumular the Guru is Siva Himself or individuals who have lost their individual essence by being possessed by Siva completely.


Now the Seventh Tantra is metaphysically the richest and it is here we have the most extensive treatment of the meaning SivaliGkam, the Siva Tatvas Natam and Bindu and so forth. The theme of AruL or Grace also finds its most excellent exposition here. It also contains many verses on the science of longevity where the ways in which one can learn to live very long are enunciated. Some of these ideas are really archaic. Historically it is this Tantra that has been most influential and which  created later many Siddhas who developed these sciences to greater heights. It can be said the science of Alchemy, Rasayanam, that the Siddhas developed begins from the ideas incorporated in this Tantra.


The Eighth Tantra is perhaps the most difficult and abstruse dealing with an extensive analysis of the different states of consciousness quite ill understood even to this day.  It also deals with Vedanta along Natanta and such other schools of thoughts but still with the framework of Triadism, the Pati Pacu and Paacam are anati and which is first announced by Tirumular himself. Without understanding this many have misunderstood Tirumular as an advocate of Advaita, which he cannot be unless he is also said to contradict himself.  There are some terms like IlakkaNaatriayam and so forth, which may not be original for such terms came into use only during the Siddha period (12th- 16th cent AD)


The Ninth and the final Tantra deals with some metaphysical issues related to mantras. But the most significant theme is that of the Dance of Siva and how it is related to not only the mantras but also deeper metaphysical darsanas.


This is NOT a comprehensive summary of Tirumantiram, a text that I cherish reading for the enormous wealth of metaphysical insights it contains. It appears to me actually inexhaustible where within a verse of only four lines he compresses so much information.


 Those interested to taste some of his verses please visit the above websites.





The Metaphysical Tamil-3


The Bakti revolt was certainly the most momentous event in the cultural history of the Tamils and which earns for them an important place in the cultural history of India as a whole but now all ignored in a way perhaps due to the Aryan romanticism that has taken deep roots and color every Indological study. The Bakti revolt not only reinstated the AESTHETICS back into the center of cultural life through promoting music dance and so forth, but also contributed the nuclear ideas for the birth or recovery of the Hermeneutic Logic that became the central contributions of the Tamil Saivites in the field of philosophy.


Certainly there was a severe criticism of the demonstrative  logic of the Buddhists and Jains who pretended that with Logic and hence rational thought alone they can affirm what is truth and what is not and for which purpose they transformed the ancient Naiyayika of the Pacupata Saivas (which itself is a distortion of the Hermeneutic Logic of Tol.) throwing away the Agama PramaaNa and hence with that the whole realms of transductive perceptions. It is against such reductionism that Sambantar sang “eetuukkaLaalum edutta mozikaLaalum mikku cootikka veeNdaa, cudarnterintuLan cooti emperumaan (Do not examine excessively everything (I say) with your logical mind, BEING stands shining brilliantly in my eyes). He also added that “ aatpaalavarkku aruLum vaNNamum aatiyin maaNbum keedpaan pukil aLavillai, kiLakka veeNdaa; (The ways BEING blesses the deserving and His own forms are beyond the measures of man and so no one can definitely say this is the Way and so forth). Added to that is the most momentous concept of Appar “aadduvittaal yaaroruvar aadaataaree? ( if played by BEING who can refuse to play? ) that brought out the relevance of DANCE metaphor even for metaphysics.


This understanding slowly worked on the Saivites and finally resulted in the writings of MeykaNda Sastras and numerous others from about the 11th cent. But interestingly enough it was the Buddhists and Jains, so severely criticized during the time of Sambantar that paved the way for the rebirth of Hermeneutic Logic (Ta. eeraNaviyal) as opposed to the Demonstrative Logic that also prospered up to a point but later declined. The only book that applies Naiyayika Logic demonstrating the essences of Saiva Siddhanta is Njaanamirtham ( 11th cent) but which did not take deep roots in the Tamil mind.  What took deep roots is Hermeneutic Logic and this was done by a masterly manner of Meykandar and his student AruNandi, and for which there is nothing equivalent in Sanskrit literature, as far as I know.


The birth and development of Hermeneutic Logic even within Buddhism and Jainism is all part of the Tamil cultural institution of debating, seeking out all the possible views and then determining or deciding what is truth. In Tolkappiyam we have as part of PuRam or public life a department where different sages and philosophers (aRivar) come together and sought to vanquish each other in the court of the kings. Every major festival also had as part of the celebrations the Patti ManRam where such debates took place. We have also kuRaL ( c. 2nd cnet AD?)declaring “ epporuL yaar yaar vaayk keedpinum, aporuL meypporuL kaaNpatu aRivu’ (It is the  mark of intelligence to seek out TRUTH no matter what is the subject matter and from whose mouth it comes)


MaNimekalai (c. 5 th cent) is a unique book in Buddhism that survives in full to this day.  Over all it appears to be a book in Tantric Buddhism with magic and such other supernatural themes playing a central role. But unlike its earlier twin Cilappatikaaram, the focus is Buddhist philosophy or Dharma and which is explained in the final two chapters. Many scholars say that Buddhist Logic outlined here differs in some important details from that Dharmakirti  Dignaga  and so forth who were also Tamil Buddhists who lived in Kancipuram, at that time a famous center for Buddhist learning. But what is important for us is the 27th chapter, the Samayak KaNakkar Tam TiRam Keedda Kaatai, i.e. the story of listening to the different schools philosophy of the philosophers of the times.


This interesting episode is said to take place in Vanjci Maanakar, the capitol city of Kerala and MaNimekalai, in the guise of ayoung man, listens to  ALL the different schools of philosophy active at that time  before deciding upon the TRUE WAY of Philosophy, the  Dharma.  There were the followers of Viyasa of Veda, Jaimini and Mimamsakas, Lokayatas and Kirutakoodi and so forth who propounded Demonstrative Logic which are further developments of modifications of Naiyayika Logic of Gautama who is also mentioned. But as distinct from them we have also mention of Saiva Vaati and VaishNava Vaati perhaps indicating that Bakti movement was already beginning or was in the formative stages. It is interesting that the Vedantic schools, particularly the Advaita of Sankara, is NOT mentioned at all and in this in Vanjci in Kerala, the birth place of Sankara!


But any way the point is there is this pressure to LISTEN to different schools of philosophy and the NEED to evaluate them or de-construct them before deciding what is true. This de-construction is very poorly done in MaNimekalai - it is simply stated that these philosophies do not  make sense in a summary fashion  and without clarifying in what way they do not make sense.


But this important defect in the structure of Hermeneutic Logic is made good in the Jaina classic  Nilakeci (c. 9th cent AD), which also very fortunately exists in full and with several scholarly commentaries. It is cast in the form of epic tale, a product of a dream experience in which the seductive woman ghost Niili goes around debating with the different philosophers active at that time.  The strategy is quite clear. In the first chapter the basic principles of true philosophy is outlined and in the light of this and their implications the different schools are de-constructed. The de-constructed include Vedism, different schools of Buddhism Samkhya and so forth  but interestingly enough not Saivism and VaishNavism, which were immensely active at that time. However we have here more structure given to Hermeneutic Logic where not only  the different schools of thoughts are understood but also de-constructed one by one.


It is this form that is seized upon by MeykaNdar and AruNandi but with a reversal. AruNandi divides his massive Civanjana Cittiyaar into Parapakkam and Supakkam where the Parapakkam contains the different schools of thought that are de-constructed and Supakkam that which cannot be deconstructed and hence the TRUTH and which happens to be Saiva



We shall take up these in some details next.




The Metaphysical Tamil-4


Let it be noted that in the History of Indian Philosophy there does not exist a book like Civanjana Botam (CJB) that is a marvel of both depth of metaphysical insights and clarity of logical thinking. A divine gift, as the story goes, it established very firmly the metaphysical foundations for Saivism in the most inclusive sense i.e. a philosophy that accommodates all shades of metaphysical thinking but at the same time bent on pointing out the erroneous quite mercilessly so that only TRUTH prevails. Tantric Buddhism of MaNimekalai should be credited with its beginnings and the philosophical Jainism of Nilakeci with further and substantial developments. However it is Meykandar  who raised it to a level of astuteness that was the very peak of such a development never to be repeated ever since. Saivism stands like a solid rock unshaken and unnerved by any kind of new religion that came to India and try to rob of its foundations. For the point is Meykandar accomplished through CJB something even beyond Husserl’s attempt to found philosophy as a rational science with his phenomenology of eidetic reduction and what not. It is not philosophy that has been transformed into a science but the whole realms of metaphysics and hence the religious dimensions of human existence itself. Of course the insights were already there in Tirumular’s Tirumantiram and the hymns of Appar Sambantar Sundarar Manikkavasakar and so forth. But while these baktas opened new vistas through their aesthetics, there was also a requirement for the rational foundation of even this aesthetics and it is this that is accomplished by Meykandar and followed with AruNandi Umapati and so forth.


Now we must note that CJB has TWO levels of logical structure, the General and Local. The General Structure pertains to the PROGRESSIVE structure of the text as a whole and which was noted in Tolkaappiyam as the Atikaara MuRaimai, how a text has SEQUENTIAL organization and which is simultaneously progressive. The truth of the First Sutra gives birth to the Second and which both collectively gives birth to the Third etc. So by the time we come the final sutra, the 12th, the truths of all the earlier sutras are presupposed. Now within this organizational structure is superimposed another - the Potu and CiRappu where the first 6 sutras are the Potu and remaining 6  are the CiRappu. What is Potu is the Metaphysica Generalis, metaphysical truths that are UNIVERSAL and hence already there in the understanding of all human beings, the past present and future and not only among the Saivites but in the mind all people whatever their religion or culture. Such truths are the AXIOMATIC TRUTHS and therefore NOT the peculiar possession of any one-person religion or culture. Now the CiRappu is Metaphysica Specialis and which is the APPLICATION to existence so that existence becomes AUTHENTIC - not the false and misleading but the true. The   true Existential Meanings are worked out and presented as what one OUGHT to seek out and hence what one OUGHT to do by way of attaining that for which existence is. And this true meaning is Moksa and which requires that one should worship BEING in attuviti anbu, in LOVE that sees no difference at all with any.


So collectively the whole text can be said to be Metaphysica Universalis with the component parts of Metaphysica Generalis and Metaphysica Specialis (to borrow some terms from Kant)


But what makes this exercise something in Hermeneutic Logic?


This is where the impact of Tol.  MaNimekalai and  Nilakeci are evident. The whole text is cast within the structure Showing in order make others See what one has in fact seen. This kind of logical dialogue was called KaaNdikai Urai in Tol. where the word KaaNdikai is a noun derived from the injunctive KaaNdikaa! , Please you see.  This is also the structure of Nilakeci where the first chapter outlines the darsanas, what one has seen as truths and the remaining chapters deconstructed against this intial description of truths. The same structure is followed by Meykandar and which is quite visible in the LOCAL structure where each sutra is divided into various theses and each thesis is SHOWN to be true so that others can SEE what is shown and through that come to an agreement.


Each sutra is divided into a number of atikaraNam or theses where again collectively these atikaraNams would lead to the truth of the sutra. . But each atikaraNam has a MeeRkooL, the truth that is asserted accompanied with REASON (eetu) and UtaaraNam (argument). Here again we see the Circular structure that we also see in Tolkaappiyam and later taken over by Naiyaiyikas, where the Pratiknja is also the same as the Nigamana but with a change in the logical status, as Pratiknja it remains an assertion but as Nigamana it becomes something collectively agreed upon and hence accepted as truth. The MeeRkooL, that which is asserted or shown as true is given the REASON and illustrations so that others can also SEE what is shown. The term MeeRkooL is derived from the verb meeRkoLLal and means accepting as true, presupposing as true and so forth.


Thus in this way Meykandar gives a detailed and very elaborate structure to the Hermeneutic Logic, a kind of Communicative Logic and in which through an immensely rational activity of the mind, the gifted who has seen the Axiomatic Truths labors also to MAKE SEE OTHERS what one has seen and here not invoking any authority whatsoever. It is this aspect of it which makes the whole a text in science i.e. in Hermeneutic Science.


And as part of this Hermeneutic Logic, the deconstruction of UNTRUTHS is unavoidable and this is done in a masterly fashion of MeykaNdar throughout the whole text. For example  the first Axiomatic Truth is that there is BEING and He is ONE - not many. In showing that this is truth several schools of thought contrary to this are deconstructed and in that deconstruction the truth is allowed to emerge as that which cannot be deconstructed.  Here the  understanding is that the TRUTHS cannot be deconstructed, the attempt to deconstruct and with that destroy and disperse them will FAIL with that failure itself establishing it as a truth.


It is this insight available in CJB that is taken over and given an epic like dimensions in the massive Civanjana Cittiyaar by AruNandi where attempts is also made to delineate explicitly the Hermeneutic Logic of MeykaNdar in CJB.


We shall see some aspects of it next.