Tacit Tirukkuṟaḷ: Religion, Ethics, and Poetics in a Tamil Literary Tradition
Smith, Jason William
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CitationSmith, Jason William. 2020. Tacit Tirukkuṟaḷ: Religion, Ethics, and Poetics in a Tamil Literary Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the Tirukkuṟaḷ, a poem composed in Tamil around the fifth century C.E. that is today attributed to an author named Tiruvaḷḷuvar. The poem consists of 1,330 verses arranged into 133 chapters of ten verses each, which are then divided into three thematic sections on “virtue” (aṟam), “wealth” (poruḷ), and “pleasure” (iṉpam or kāmam). This project focuses on two closely related questions about this text. First, what vision of human life does the Tirukkuṟaḷ articulate to its audiences? I argue that the poem imparts a vision of human life as marked by the inward cultivation of virtue accompanied by the outward expansion of human relationships, in which both of these processes mutually enrich and reinforce each other and culminate in the attainment of a complex and fulfilling marital life. This vision of human life is never described explicitly, but there are subtle literary strategies operating throughout the text that tacitly convey this vision to the reader. At the same time, the text constantly destabilizes this vision of human life in order to illustrate that the path to attaining it is anything but simple and invite the reader to grapple with the tension between that ideal and the reality of human life.
Second, how does the Tirukkuṟaḷ convey this vision to its audiences? I argue that the Tirukkuṟaḷ communicates its vision by working upon audiences at three different structural levels inherent to the text: the section (pāl), the chapter (atikāram), and the verse (kuṟaḷ or pāṭam). It is only by attending to all three levels together that we can fully understand what the Tirukkuṟaḷ is saying and how it operates as a work of literature to engage its audiences in specific modes of reflection on the nature of human life. These structural levels also provide the organizational framework for this dissertation, in which each chapter is dedicated to one of the three levels mentioned above: chapter 2 focuses on the text at the level of its sections, chapter 3 at the level of its chapters, and chapter 4 at the level of its verses.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364524