1st Edition

Colonial Authority and Tamiḻ Scholarship A Study of the First English Translations

Edited By C T Indra, N Govindarajan Copyright 2024
    220 Pages 29 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    220 Pages 29 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    This book—an English translation of a key Tamiḻ book of literary and cultural criticism—looks at the construction of Tamiḻ scholarship through the colonial approach to Tamiḻ literature as evidenced in the first translations into English.

    The Tamiḻ original Atikāramum tamiḻp pulamaiyum: Tamiḻiliruntu mutal āṅkila moḻipeyarppukaḷ by N Govindarajan is a critique of the early attempts at the translations of Tamiḻ literary texts by East India Company officials, specifically by N E Kindersley. Kindersley, who was working as the Collector of South Arcot district in the late eighteenth century, was the first colonial officer to translate the Tamiḻ classic Tirukkuṟaḷ and the story of King Naḷa into English and to bring to the reading public in English the vibrant oral narrative tradition in Tamiḻ. F W Ellis in the nineteenth century brought in another dimension through his translation of the same classic. The book, thus, focuses on the attempts to translate the Tamiḻ literary works by the Company’s officials who emerged as the pioneering English Dravidianists and the impact of translations on the Tamiḻ reading community. Theoretically grounded, the book makes use of contemporary perspectives to examine colonial interventions and the operation of power relations in the literary and socio-cultural spheres. It combines both critical readings of past translations and intensive research work on Tamiḻ scholarship to locate the practice of literary works in South Asia and its colonial history, which then enables a conversation between Indian literary cultures. In this book, the author has not only explored all key scholarly sources as well as the commentaries that were used by the colonial officials, chiefly Kindersley, but also gives us an insightful critique of the Tamiḻ works. The highlight of the discussion of Dravidian Orientalism in this book is the intralinguistic opposition of the “mainstream” Tamiḻ literature in “correct/poetical” Tamiḻ and the folk literature in “vacana” Tamiḻ. This framework allows the translators to critically engage with the work.

    Annotated and with an Introduction and a Glossary, this translated work is a valuable addition to our reading of colonial South India. The book will be of interest to researchers of Tamiḻ Studies, Orientalism and Indology, translation studies, oral literature, linguistics, South Asian Studies, Dravidian Studies and colonial history.

    Notes on Authors

    List of Figures


    Acknowledgements (Translators)

    Acknowledgements (Tamiḻ Author)

    Translators’ Note

    Introduction: Rethinking Dravidian Orientalism

    N. Govindarajan’s Preface

    1 Researching India and Knowing the Tamiḻ Region: Studying India

    2 Life of Kindersley

    3 Tirukkuṟaḷ—The Ocean of Wisdom

    4 The History of King Naḷa

    5 Hegemonic Scholarship

    Bibliography: English

    Bibliography: Tamiḻ




    C T Indra, former Professor of English, University of Madras, Chennai, India, taught in the Department for over three decades. She was a Fulbright Post-doctoral Fellow at Harvard (1980–81) and American Studies Research Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA (1990). Her areas of interest are Literary Criticism and Theory, Translation and Hagiography. She has translated from Tamiḻ into English short stories, plays, a novella, poems and critical writings.

    Prema Jagannathan is Associate Professor of English (retired) and former Dean of Academic Affairs at Stella Maris College, Chennai, India. Her areas of interest include Indian Fiction, Bhakti Literature, Translation Studies and Communicative English.

    “The book, until now available only in Tamiḻ, paints a picture of Orientalist scholarship as it crystallized in the late-eighteenth century, prior to the discovery by Ellis of the existence of the Dravidian family of languages. At the same time, Dr Govindarajan redeems the fate of Tamiḻ works and the often anonymous Tamiḻ authors who composed in colloquial Tamiḻ and in a mostly oral literary and cultural milieu. One might say that Kindersley was a forerunner of the post-Orientalist, post-Colonial scholars of South Indian languages who have expanded the horizons of early modern South Indian cultures far beyond the prevalent grammatical and dialectal norms”.

    David Shulman, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University, Jerusalem