Knowing the Classics: Participating in a Literary Tradition: Prof. Blake Wentworth

Tamil Paaramabariyam
(Tamil Heritage)
invite you and your friends to a lecture on
Knowing the Classics: Participating in a Literary Tradition
 Prof. Blake Wentworth
at 5.30pm on Saturday, 1st, January, 2011
at Vinobha Hall, Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya, T Nagar, Chennai - 17

What makes classical Tamil literature classic, and for whom is this true?  Caṅkam literature, the Rāmāyaṇa of Kampaṉ, and select Cōḻa period masterpieces might well be the prime contenders today, but was this likewise true for Tamil literati of previous centuries?  There is a rich history of poets beyond the Cōḻa period, masters such as Iraṭṭaiyār, Cēṟai Kavirāja Piḷḷai, or Antakakkavi Vīrarākava Mutaliyār, all of whom worked decisive changes in the Tamil literary sensibility.  How did they envision the tradition they upheld?  I would like to share the texts and biography of the great seventeenth-century poet Andhakakavi Vīrarāghava Mutaliyār, analyzing his life and work in order to understand how he and his audience understood the literary, and what they took to be classic.  What did a poet of this era think literature was for, what were its powers, and how did it relate to the texts that had come before? For Andhakakavi, too, had his exemplars, and by knowing who they were, and how they were to be invoked and transformed through the poet's creative art, we can better understand what it meant to say that someone had the gift of poetry once the Tamil Śaiva tradition had already recognized its classics. 

Blake Wentworth is a lecturer in Tamil and Religious studies at Yale University.  His work concentrates on the theistic religions of south India, with a particular focus on their Tamil and Sanskrit literary expressions.  At present he is working on a critical study of the Tamil Ulās, a literary genre that depicts the processions of gods and heroes.  His translation of Sundara Ramasamy's Oru Puḷiyamarattiṉ Katai (Tamarind History) is forthcoming from Penguin India.  He leads the Kamparāmāyaṇa translation project for the Murty Classical Library of India, and is translating the text's first volume, The Rāmāyaṇa of Kampaṉ: Youth.

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