Making Order in the Vaults of Memory: Tamil Satellite Stanzas on the Transmission of Texts

  • Eva Wilden Universität Hamburg
Keywords: Tamil, Caṅkam literature, oral literature, manuscript studies, printing history


The Tamil intellectual universe, like so many others, underwent a profound change in the course of the 19th century, the period when print, although not unknown before, became available for the first time on a large scale, which allowed the publication and dissemination of a variety of text corpora from the Tamil poetic and religious traditions. This process has been described in recent years, for its material and political impact, from a number of sides, be it manuscript studies, print studies and literary or general social history. An understudied aspect seems to be the sources of continuity in this transformation, and an important part of these is a type of free-floating stanza, most often a four-liner in the Veṇpā metre, transmitted in the paratextual margins of texts, orally handed down from teacher to student and figuring large in prefaces and introductions to the early prints. It is these little verses of mostly indeterminable date and origin which helped to shape the form today’s corpora and canonic works are printed in. They have to be understood, on the one hand, as a way precarious knowledge was preserved in periods of instability and perishable media, and on the other hand as specimens of a literary genre by itself. Moreover, there are reasons to believe that they were deemed important enough to supply them in cases where transmission failed.


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Author Biography

Eva Wilden, Universität Hamburg

Eva Wilden studied Indology and Philosophy at the University of Hamburg, where she took a doctorate on Vedic ritual and afterwards specialised in Classical Tamil under the guidance of S.A. Srinivasan. Her habilitation Literary Techniques in Old Tamil Caṅkam Poetry: The Kuṟuntokai was published in 2006. Since 2003 she is employed as a researcher at the École Française d’Extrême-Orient in Pondicherry, which for a number of years gave her the occasion to study daily with the late lamented T.V. Gopal Iyer. She is head of the Caṅkam Project, occupied with the digitisation and edition of Classical Tamil manuscripts

( and organiser of a yearly Classical Tamil Summer Seminar in Pondy. She is external member of the Sonderforschungsbereich 950 at the Hamburg Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures.


Primary Sources

a) Manuscripts

Aiṅkuṟunūṟu Tiruvāvaṭutuṟai Mutt Library (TVM) Eṭṭuttokai

U.V. Swaminathaiyar Library (UVSL) 98

Aintiṇai Aimpatu Government Oriental Manuscript Library (GOML) D.205/TD.84

GOML D.206/TD.53

GOML D.207/D.137

Akanāṉūṟu TVM Eṭṭuttokai

UVSL 237

UVSL 11/73

UVSL 4/66

UVSL 5/67

GOML R-5734/TR1050

Kaliyārāycci GOML R-5780

Kīḻkkaṇakku UVSL 885

UVSL 603

UVSL 1078

Paripāṭal UVSL 1077

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Change of Paradigms and Mechanical (Re)discoveries: Manuscript and Print Cultures across Asia