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Extraordinary Child

Poems from a South Indian Devotional Genre

Paula Richman

Publication Year: 1997

For hundreds of years Tamil poets have been composing devotional texts in which they adopt the voice of a mother and address praises to an extraordinary child. The poems, called pillaittamil (literally "Tamil for a child"), form a major genre of Tamil literature. Since the twelfth century, when the first known pillaittamil was written in honor of a Chola king, many of these poems have been composed in praise of Murugan and South Indian goddesses, as well as saints and venerated monastic abbots. In recent times pillaittamils have been dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, the Virgin Mary, and Baby Jesus, as well as notable political figures and moviestars. Extraordinary Child provides a sampler of translations from, and analysis of, seven pillaittamils of particular religious, aesthetic, or political significance.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

Illustrations and Tables

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p. viii

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pp. ix-xiii

This book sets out the distinctive features of the pillaittamil: a genre of Tamil devotional poetry to an extraordinary deity or person, addressed in the form of a child. The book provides resources to transform the reader into a person equipped to savor well-crafted pillaittamil poetry from several religious...

Part One: How To Read A Pillaittamil

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Chapter One Extraordinary Child

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pp. 3-25

The South Indian devotional poetry called the pillaittamil is a genre built of multiples: multiple verses, multiple sections, multiple poems, and multiple religious affiliations. This genre always contains a particular sequence of poetry found....

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Chapter Two Asking for the Moon, Taming the Tiger

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pp. 26-50

The moon (ampuli) paruvam provides an excellent example of the aesthetic of virtuosity that plays a large role in pillaittamil composition. In this paruvam the poet must address his poetry directly to the moon, using various forms of cajolery or intimidation to convince the moon to act as playmate for...

Part Two: Pillaittamils for Reading

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Chapter Three The Florescence

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pp. 53-80

The pillaittamil genre began to flourish with the composition of Pakalikkûttar’s Tiruccentûr Pillaittamil (henceforth TCPT). While several extant earlier texts contain some or almost all of the features characteristic of the pillaittamil...

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Chapter Four A Temple and a Pillaittamil

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pp. 81-111

In the seventeenth century Kumarakuruparar composed Maturai Mînâπciyammai PiΠΠaittamil (henceforth MMPT) and presented it to Tirumalai Nâyakkar, ruler and patron responsible for a major set of renovations on the...

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Chapter Five The Hindu Monastic Milieu

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pp. 112-129

No single English term or phrase can adequately describe the role that T. C. Mînâπcicuntaram PiΠΠai (henceforth Pillai) played in nineteenth-century Tamil literary culture. He began as a child prodigy gifted at composing verse, matured into...

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Chapter Six A Pillaittamil to Muhammad

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pp. 130-157

By choosing to write in the pillaittamil genre, Tamil poets within the Muslim tradition located themselves in relation to the Islamic culture of southeastern India, while simultaneously broadening the scope of the pillaittamil tradition....

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Chapter Seven One Poet's Baby Jesus

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pp. 158-177

For centuries the image of Baby Jesus has played a crucial role in Christian tradition. Veneration of the infant Jesus began in the early Middle Ages and received a major boost in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from the Cistercians...

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Chapter Eight Poetry of Cultural Nationalism

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pp. 178-204

The vast majority of pillaittamils are religious texts composed by authors affiliated with established religious communities.1 In the first quarter of this century, however, some poets wrote pillaittamils not to express institutionalized religious...

Part Three: Reflections on Pillaittamils

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Chapter Nine The Fruits of Reading Pillaittamils

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pp. 207-228

Over the centuries the pillaittamil genre has attracted many writers and literary connoisseurs. When I asked practicing pillaittamil poets why they found the genre compelling, they recounted the pleasures of composing poems...

Appendix: Descriptions of Pillaittamils in Texts about Poetics

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pp. 229-236


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pp. 237-268


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pp. 269-280


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pp. 281-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862442
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824810634

Publication Year: 1997

OCLC Number: 45843017
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Extraordinary Child

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Subject Headings

  • Devotional poetry, Tamil -- History and criticism.
  • Piḷḷaittamil̲.
  • Devotional poetry, Tamil -- Translations into English.
  • Tamil language -- Grammar.
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