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Colonizing the Realm of Words

The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India

Sascha Ebeling

Publication Year: 2010

Details the transformation of Tamil literary culture that came with colonialism and the encounter with Western modernity. A true tour de force, this book documents the transformation of one Indian literature, Tamil, under the impact of colonialism and Western modernity. While Tamil is a living language, it is also India’s second oldest classical language next to Sanskrit, and has a literary history that goes back over two thousand years. On the basis of extensive archival research, Sascha Ebeling tackles a host of issues pertinent to Tamil elite literary production and consumption during the nineteenth century. These include the functioning and decline of traditional systems in which poet-scholars were patronized by religious institutions, landowners, and local kings; the anatomy of changes in textual practices, genres, styles, poetics, themes, tastes, and audiences; and the role of literature in the politics of social reform, gender, and incipient nationalism. The work concludes with a discussion of the most striking literary development of the time—the emergence of the Tamil novel.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-ix

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xviii

Colonialism transformed many things, inexorably, decisively. But what about ways of narrating and listening, of reading and writing, of using one’s imagination to do things with words? What about literature? How can the realm of words, the language we use and what we do with it, be colonized? ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xx

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Note on Transliteration, Pronunciation, and Translations of Tamil Primary Sources

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pp. xxi-xxiii

Besides certain obvious exceptions (such as well-known place names or proper names), I have used the standard transliteration system for Tamil as explained in Beythan (1943) so as to satisfy specialist readers and enable non-specialist readers to pronounce the unfamiliar words they encounter. ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-32

The cover of this book and Fig. 1.1 show the imposing figure of His Highness Dambadas Ramachandra Tondaiman Bahadur (1829–1886) who ruled the South Indian princely state Pudukkottai from 1839 until his death.1 We see the raja, a seasoned quinquagenarian potentate, clad in a typical Indian royal outfit, ...

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2. Mapping the Universe of the Pulavar: Ti. Mīṉāṭcicuntaram Piḷḷai (1815 -1876) and the Field of Traditional Literary Practices

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pp. 33-102

In his condemnation of late pre-modern literary practices, Srinivasa Aiyangar was certainly not alone. His view may be seen as representative of what many twentieth-century literary histories want to make us believe.2 In fact, as has been pointed out above, this dismissive attitude is still prevalent among present ...

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3. Pulavars and Potentates: Structures of Literary Patronage at the Zamindars' Courts and Beyond

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pp. 103-164

Right at the beginning of the nineteenth century, British colonial impact severely altered the worlds of the local rulers and native kings (poligars, Tam. pāḷaiyakkārar) who had emerged as free agents during the Nayaka period. After the so-called "Poligar Wars" of 1800 - 1801, the erstwhile independent kingdoms ...

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4. Toward the Modern Tamil Author: The Colonial Critique of the "Vernacular" and Māyūram Vētanāyakam Piḷḷai (1826 - 1889) as an Agent of Change

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pp. 165-204

While the pulavars were increasingly drawn toward the new occupations of book publishing and teaching Tamil in the colonial educational system, around mid-century another factor emerged which rendered the pulavars' former lifestyle problematic and less attractive. A public debate arose which severely criticized ...

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5. The Emergence of the Tamil Novel

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pp. 205-246

From the 1850s onward, a new form of narrative called the "novel" emerged in most of India's literary traditions. Manifesting itself first in Bengali and Marathi and moving on to Urdu, Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, and Malayalam, this new genre became increasingly popular in various corners of the subcontinent.1 ...

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6. Epilogue

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pp. 247-252

As we have seen in the preceding chapters, the colonization of Tamil literature - the transformation of the entire system of Tamil elite literary production and consumption during the course of the nineteenth century - consisted of a set of gradual, interdependent, and complex processes operating at a variety of levels. ...

APPENDIX 1 The Dating of the Cētupati viṟaliviṭutūtu Revisited

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pp. 253-256

APPENDIX 2 Chronological Table of the Earliest Tamil Novels Published Before 1900

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pp. 257-262

APPENDIX 3 Original Tamil Texts Quoted and Annotations

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pp. 263-294


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pp. 295-298


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pp. 299-340


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pp. 341-355

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432014
E-ISBN-10: 1438432011
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438431994
Print-ISBN-10: 1438431996

Page Count: 379
Illustrations: 7 b/w photographs, 1 table, 3 figures
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 670429592
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Colonizing the Realm of Words

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Subject Headings

  • Tamil literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- India, South -- History -- 19th century.
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