Tinai Concept: Aesthetics Of Ancient Tamil Poetics Tolkappiyam

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Dr. N. Saraswathy Antharjanam


Tolkappiyar identified only fourteen tinais, for akam and puram combined, but one may add many more to his list if literature other than from South India is considered. The present paper attempts to suggest tinai as an essentially deep-ecological vision and poetics comparable to the systems currently discussed under this rubric. The paper deals elaborately with the concept of tinai and its various aspects such as the famous five tinais and their important components, and also the origin and development of Cankam Literature. To begin with, various interpretations of the etymology of the term tinai are given. It is followed by a detailed explication of the concept of tinai. The paper traces the early model of ecopoetics in the context of the concept of tinai. Consequently, the two major divisions of ancient Tamil poetry and their renowned five sub-divisions into distinct tinais are mentioned. Writers use the names kurinji, mullai, marutham, neythal, and palai for the distinct landscapes and the genres associated with them. Each tinai is explicated with examples and all their characteristics or salient features are tabulated. The arguments are projected with the extensive use of the ideas and contributions of A.K. Ramanujan. The aesthetic, for the ancient Tamils, was a significant system that was strictly conventional yet open-ended. They looked upon the entire environment as one unified whole, where meaning was not something that was realized at the end but a  process interlinked to all and everything at all points. This comes quite close to what we now recognize as a biosphere in ecological terms.

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