Sri Lankan Tamil literature

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Sri Lankan Tamil literature or Ceylon Tamil literature refers to Tamil literature produced in the current day country of Sri Lanka by various Tamil speaking communities such as the Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Muslims. Its legendary origins begin with what is considered to be the Sangam age and continued in the medieval era in the courts of the Jaffna kingdom until modern times. The burning of Jaffna library have led to loss of many Sri Lankan Tamil literature.[1]


According to legends, the origin of 'Sri Lankan Tamil literature dates back to the Sangam age dated variously from 200 BCE to 600 CE. The poet known as Eelattu Poothanthevanar is believed to be a Tamil poet from this period.[2] Verses in praise of Hindu deities are known to have been written in Hindu temples built by the Chola empire circa 11th century.

Medieval phase[edit]

The medieval phase Tamil literature was produced in the courts of the native Jaffna kingdom. During the reign of Jayaveera Singaiariyan, a writing on medical sciences (Segarajasekaram), astrology (Segarajasekaramalai)[3][4] and mathematics (Kanakathikaram) were authored by Karivaiya.[4] During the rule of Kunaveera Singaiariyan, a work on medicine known as Pararajasekaram was completed.[4] During Singai Pararasasekaran's rule, an academy for the propagation of Tamil language on the model of ancient Tamil Sangam's was established in Nallur. This academy performed a useful service in collecting and preserving ancient works in the form of manuscripts in a library[4] called Saraswathy Mahal. Singai Pararasasekaran's cousin Arasakesari is credited with translating the Sanskrit classic Raghuvamsa into Tamil.[3] Among other literary works of historic importance compiled before the arrival of European colonizers, Vaiyapatal, written by Vaiyapuri Aiyar, is well known.[4][5]

Colonial phase[edit]

Portuguese and the Dutch colonial periods (1619–1796) brought its own local literary responses; Muttukumara Kavirajar (1780–1851) is the earliest known among those who used literature to respond to Christian missionary activities. This was followed by the literary activities of Arumuga Navalar (1822–1879) who wrote and published a number of books.[2] Mayilvagana Pulavar, wrote the book Yalpana Vaipava Malai in 1736, containing facts of the early Tamil city of Jaffna.[1]The period of joint missionary activities by the Anglican, American Ceylon and Methodist Missions saw the spread of modern education and the expansion of translation activities which concluded by the close of the 19th century.

Modern phase[edit]

The modern phase of literature started in the 1960s with the establishment of modern universities and a free education system in the post-independence Sri Lanka. The 1960s also saw a social revolt against the caste system in Jaffna which affected Tamil literature. Dominic Jeeva was a product of this period.[2] Tamil literature was comparatively ahead of its mainland counterpart in modern Tamil Nadu with respect to Dalit issues. After the commencement of the civil war in 1983, a number of poets and fiction writers became active, focussing on issues such as death, destruction and rape. Such writings have no parallels in any previous Tamil literature.[2] The war produced writers from across the globe who reminisced their longing for their lost homes as well as a need for integration with mainstream communities in Europe and North America. Sri Lankan Tamils have produced a number of plays during the modern period in what may be considered a catalyst towards cinema.[6]


  1. ^ a b Knuth, Rebecca (2006). Destroying a Symbol: Checkered History of Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Public Library (PDF). USA: University of Hawaii. 
  2. ^ a b c d "50 years of Sri Lankan Tamil literature". Karthigesu Sivathamby. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  3. ^ a b Coddrington, H., Ceylon Coins and Currency, p.74
  4. ^ a b c d e Gunasingam, M Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, p.64-65
  5. ^ Nadarajan, V History of Ceylon Tamils, p.80-84
  6. ^ "Tamils command respect in Sri Lankan cinema". JBR. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 

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