Eight Anthologies

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Topics in Sangam literature
Sangam literature
Akattiyam Tholkāppiyam
Eighteen Greater Texts
Eight Anthologies
Aiṅkurunūṟu Akanāṉūṟu
Puṟanāṉūṟu Kalittokai
Kuṟuntokai Natṟiṇai
Paripāṭal Patiṟṟuppattu
Ten Idylls
Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai Kuṟiñcippāṭṭu
Malaipaṭukaṭām Maturaikkāñci
Mullaippāṭṭu Neṭunalvāṭai
Paṭṭiṉappālai Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai
Poruṇarāṟṟuppaṭai Ciṟupāṇāṟṟuppaṭai
Eighteen Lesser Texts
Nālaṭiyār Nāṉmaṇikkaṭikai
Iṉṉā Nāṟpatu Iṉiyavai Nāṟpatu
Kār Nāṟpatu Kaḷavaḻi Nāṟpatu
Aintiṇai Aimpatu Tiṉaimoḻi Aimpatu
Aintinai Eḻupatu Tiṉaimalai Nūṟṟu Aimpatu
Tirukkuṛaḷ Tirikaṭukam
Ācārakkōvai Paḻamoḻi Nāṉūṟu
Ciṟupañcamūlam Mutumoḻikkānci
Elāti Kainnilai
Related topics
Sangam Sangam landscape
Tamil history from Sangam literature Ancient Tamil music

The Eight Anthologies, known as Ettuthogai (Tamil: எட்டுத்தொகை) in the literature, is a classical Tamil poetic work that forms part of the Eighteen Greater Texts (Pathinenmaelkanakku) anthology series of the Sangam Literature. The Eight Anthologies and its companion anthology, the Ten Idylls (Pathupaattu), are some of the oldest available Tamil literature and have been dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE. The poems belong to a much earlier date. As certain poems have references of earlier periods. Thus, the anthology is a collection of poems from different timess.

for example :

a verse from the 69th poem of Akanaṉūṟu :

"விண்பொரு நெடுவரை இயல் தேர் மோரியர் 

பொன் புனை திகிரி திரிதர குறைத்த

அறை இறந்து அகன்றனர் ஆயினும், எனையதூஉம்

நீடலர் வாழி தோழி!"

The verse speaks about the elegant chariots on which the Mauryans rode through mountains and valleys and are referred to as "moriyar". This suggests an earlier time period for this poem since the period of the Maurya empire is around the late 400BCEs.

Contents of the anthologies[edit]

The Eight Anthologies consist of 2,371 poems varying from small stanzas of three lines in Ainkurnuru to stanzas of forty lines in Purananuru. The following poems form the Eight Anthologies:

The following Tamil poetry by an anonymous author lists the component parts of this anthology:

நற்றிணை நல்ல குறுந்தொகை ஐங்குறுநூறு
ஒத்த பதிற்றுப்பத்து ஓங்கு பரிபாடல்
கற்றறிந்தார் ஏத்தும் கலியோடு அகம்புறம்
என்று இத்திறத்த எட்டுத் தொகை.

The ancient Tamil lyrical poetry compiled in the Eight Anthologies is unique and vigorous, full of vivid realism.


There are 470 poets known either by their proper names or by causal names deduced from their works. The authors are unidentified in the case of a hundred stanzas. The poets belonged to different parts of Tamil Nadu and to different professions.

Some of them were very popular like Kabilar, Nakkirar and Avvaiyaar and some others are rarely remembered by their names. Yet a general harmony prevails throughout these eight anthologies. The tone and temper of the age is reflected in all their poems with a singular likeness. They were moulded according to certain literary conventions or traditions that prevailed in the Sangam age. Yet they reveal the individual genius of the poets who sang them.

Composition style[edit]

In those early days of Sangam literature, the convention which holds that Tamil poetry should only deal with the four aspects of life, namely, virtue (அறம் - aram), material (as in 'material wealth') (பொருள் - porul), joy (happiness and pleasure) (இன்பம் - inbam), and salvation (including death) (வீச்சு - veechu), was not prevalent. The poets sang either of subjective (Agam) or objective (Puram) matters. Agam dealt with ideal love and Puram with the rest, such as war, munificence, etc.

குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று

கவவுக் கடுங்குரையள் காமர் வனப்பினள்
குவவுமென் முலையள் கொடிக்கூந் தலளே
யாங்குமறந் தமைகோ யானே ஞாங்கர்க்
கடுஞ்சுரை நல்லா னடுங்குதலைக் குழவி
தாய்காண் விருப்பி னன்ன
சாஅய்நோக் கினளே மாஅ யோளே.

-சிறைக்குடியாந்தையார். (குறுந்தொகை - 132)

What he said to his friend:

A girl of dark complexion is she
Ever ready to embrace,
desirable in beauty,
with delicately bulging breasts
and long flowing hair!
How can I forget her and be at rest?
In her look is such longing
as in the look of a new-born tender calf
that longs to see its mother whose udders are ready to flow!
- Siraikkudiyaanndhayaar. (Kurunthogai - 132)

These poems artistically describe the sun, the moon and the nature. They however do not describe the nature for its own sake, rather they are utilised as containers of various aspects of human life. Nature provides the rich background for human emotions.

The poets of the Eight Anthologies believed in the unique effects of a few deft touches of description, not in the elaborate and full descriptions of all the parts of a beautiful object or scene. They preferred to directly describe an object with a few vivid words just enough to communicate the emotions associated with the physical object. In this they can be compared with the Japanese Haiku poetic style.

The poems of the Eight Anthologies are composed using a number of meters unique to Tamil poetry.

Akaval metre[edit]

Of the eight anthologies five are on Agam, two on Puram, and one on both. Six of them are in 'agaval' metre which is a kind of verse, interspersed with alliterations and rhymes. The poems on Agam as well as Puram theme are written in this metre and its regulated and subtle music adds to the poetic beauty. This metre is a simple but wonderful instrument, which causes no impediment to the freedom of expression of the poet. It has been found to be an appropriate and natural medium for the expression of the valuable experience of the poets.

Kali metres[edit]

The other two anthologies that are not written in agaval metre are Kaliththogai and Paripaatal. The poems of Kaliththogai are in Kali metre which is known for its dramatic and lyrical qualities and which, according to Tolkappiyam is well suited to express the emotions of the lovers. There is repetition of certain lines and phrases and this, added to the haunting music of the metre, is very appealing.

Paripaadal metre[edit]

Paripaadal is a metre full of rhythm and music and the anthology known by this name consists of songs composed in this metre. There are religious poems as well as those on love-themes. The love-theme is worked against the background of bathing festivities. These songs were sung in different tunes as is evident from the notes on the music at the end of these. The names of the musicians who set tunes to these songs are also mentioned therein.

Religion in the Eight Anthologies[edit]

In general the poets of the ancient Sangam period were not overtly religious. They were content writing in praise of their patron the king or about the idealised man and his paramour. But Paripaatal is a notable exception. This is a collection of poems, which are set to music and written about Thirumaal, Murugan and the river Vaigai. This is the earliest known Tamil religious work.[citation needed]

See also[edit]