About Tholkappiyam தொல்காப்பியம்

About Tholkappiyam


The Tolkāppiyam (Tamil: தொல்காப்பியம்) is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is further divided into nine chapters each. While the exact date of the work is not known, based on linguistic and other evidence, it has been dated variously between the third century BCE and the 10th century CE. Some modern scholars prefer to date it not as a single entity but in parts or layers. There is also no firm evidence to assign the authorship of this treatise to any one author.
Tolkappiyam, deals with orthography, phonology, morphology, semantics, prosody and the subject matter of literature. The Tolkāppiyam classifies the Tamil language into sentamil and kotuntamil. The former refers to the classical Tamil used almost exclusively in literary works and the latter refers to the dialectal Tamil, spoken by the people in the various regions of ancient Tamilakam.

Tolkappiyam catergorises alphabet into consonants and vowels by analysing the syllables. It grammatises the use of words and syntaxes and moves into higher modes of language analysis. The Tolkāppiyam formulated thirty phonemes and three dependent sounds for Tamil.
Etymology of the name
The name Tolkāppiyam derived from the combination of the two words Tonmai and kāppiyam. Tonmai means ancientness and Kappiam means literature.
Derivation of Tolkāppiyam from root words as per the rules defined in Nannūl verse 136.
The dating of the earliest Tamil grammatical treatise Tolkappiyam has been debated much and it is still imprecise and uncertain and has seen wide disagreements amongst scholars in the field. It has been dated variously between 8000 BCE and 10th CE.
While most of the antediluvian datings which stem mostly from a descriptive commentary in an 8th century work called Iraiyanar AgapporuL, about the existence of three Tamil Academies, which have been rejected as being devoid of any evidence, the genuine disagreements now center around widely divergent dates lying between the third century BCE and 10th CE. Some modern scholars prefer to date it not as a single entity but in parts or layers which are estimated as written between the third century BCE and the fifth century CE. There is also no firm evidence to assign the authorship of this treatise to any one author.
Not much is known about who the author was or when he lived. Traditionally, it was thought that there could have been only one author but given the fairly long time it seems to have taken for the final redaction of the book to become available, it is reasonable to ascribe the work to multiple authors. Zvelebil speculates that the final redaction may even have been the work of a systematised school of grammar than the work of individuals.
Many authors however, ascribe the work to Jaina traditions and the earliest of the possibly many authors, who has been identified as Tolkappiyanaar to a heterodox Jaina order. Some authors have also speculated that Tolkappiyanaar might have been a Brahmin belonging to the village of kappiya. S. Vaiyapuri Pillai has suggested that Tolkappiyanaar may have belonged to a heterodox Jaina grammatical tradition called aintiram(a view which other scholars like Burnell, Takanobu and Zvelebil share) and that he was a native of Tiruvatankotu in present day Southern Kerala.
Influence of Sanskrit
The grammar expounded by the Tolkappiyam owes a great deal to Sanskrit according to a few scholars. The influence or relationship of various Sanskrit works like Manavadharmashastra, Arthashastra, Natyashastra and grammarians like Pāṇini and Patanjali can be attributed in Tolkappiyam. Some scholars feel that influence of Sanskrit texts are more pronounced in Collathikaram. The eight feelings or meyppaadu mentioned in the Porulathikaram seem to agree with the eight rasas or the rasa theory of the Natyashastra.
The relationship between the Tolkappiyam and the various Sanskrit grammatical schools has also been debated. The preface to the Tolkāppiyam says that its author was well versed in aintiram. Burnell takes this to be a reference to the Aindra school of grammar referred to by other Sanskrit grammarians. He suggests that this was a pre-Pāṇinian school, and argues that the first two books of the Tolkappiyam, the Vedic Pratisakhyas, a Sanskrit grammar called the Katantra from the 3rd or 4th century, and Kaccayana's Pali grammar show significant similarities in terms of their organisation and the terminology they use, suggesting that they all belong to the same school. Takahashi, citing the views of Zvelebil and Vaiyapuri Pillai, suggests that the Aindra school is a post-Pāṇinian school, of which the Katantra is an example. Rajam argues that these studies are methodologically flawed and, after re-examining the question in relation to the first book of the Tolkappiyam, comes to the conclusion that whilst the Tolkappiyam does share characteristics with various Sanskrit works indicating a relationship, it also shows dissimilarities which are significant enough to make it unlikely that they share a common source. Instead, she suggests that these are best viewed as individual nodes within a manifold grammatical tradition.
Starting the 11th-12th CE, several commentaries came to light. Of these, the one by Ilampuranar dated to the 11th or 12th CE is considered one of the best and most comprehensive. This was followed by a commentary dateable to 1275 AD by Senavaraiyar which however, dealt only with the Sollathikaram. A commentary by Perasiriyar which is heavily indebted to the Nannūl followed. This commentary which can be dated to the 12th or 13th CE, if not later, frequently quotes from the Dandiyalankaram and Yapparunkalam, the former being a standard medieval rhetorica and the latter being a detailed treatise on Tamil prosody. Naccinarkiniyar's commentary, which can be dated to the 14th if not 15-16th century follows. Naccinarkiniyar, himself being a scholar of both Tamil and Sanskrit quotes from Parimelalakar's works. Teyvaccilaiyar's commentary follows in the 16th or 17th century. Finally, the latest available commentary, that of Kallatar comes to light. Of these commentaries, those of "Ilampooranar", "Deivachilaiyaaar" and "Natchinaarkiniyar" is regarded highly and the triumvarate are also called "Urai-asiriyargal".
The Tolkāppiyam consists of three books each of which is divided into 9 chapters. The books are called atikarams (Sanskrit:adhikara). The three books are

Ezhuththathikaaram is further subdivided into the following 9 sections - Nuul Marabu, Mozhi Marabu, PiRappiyal, PuNaRiyal, Thokai Marabu, Urubiyal, Uyir Mayangial, PuLLi Mayangial and the KutriyalukarappunaRiyal.

Nuul Marabu - This section enumerates the characters of the language, organises them into consonants, vowels and diacritic symbols. The vowels are sub classified into short and long vowels based on duration of pronunciation. Similarly, the consonants are sub classified into three categories based on the stress.

Mozhi Marabu - This section defines rules which specify where in a word can a letter not occur and which letter can not come after a particular letter. It also describes elision, which is the reduction in the duration of sound of a phoneme when preceded by or followed by certain other sounds. The rules are well-defined and unambiguous. They are categorised into 5 classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.

Kutriyalukaram - the (lip unrounded) vowel sound u
Kutriyalikaram - the vowel sound i(as the vowel in 'lip')
Aiykaarakkurukkam - the diphthong ai
Oukaarakkurukkam - the diphthong au
Aaythakkurukkam - the special character (aaytham)

PiRappiyal - This is a section on articulatory phonetics. It talks about pronunciation methods of the phonemes at the level of diaphragm, larynx, jaws, tongue position, teeth, lips and nose. The visual representation of the letters is also explained.

PuNaRiyal - This section talks about the changes to words due to the following word i.e. it specifies rules that govern the transformations on the last phonem of a word (nilaimozhi iiRu) because of the first phonem of the following word (varumozhi muthal) when used in a sentence.
Thokai Marabu

Urubiyal - This section talks about the word modifiers that are added at the end of nouns and pronouns when they are used as an object as opposed to when they are used as subjects.
Uyir Mayangial

PuLLi - Pulli concept is one of the distinguishing feature among the Tamil characters. Although it is not unique and brahmi also has pulli. It is distinguished by placement . According to tolkappiam which talks about pulli and its position, that is on top of the alphabet instead of side as in Brahmi. This is also one of the characteristics of Tamil brahmi according to Mr. Mahadevan. The first inscription of this type of pulli is in vallam by pallvas dated 7-8th century AD by Mahendra varman pallava. KutriyalukarappunaRiyal


Sollathikaaram deals with words and parts of speech. It classifies Tamil words into four categories - iyar chol(Words in common usage, thiri chol(words used in Tamil literature), vata chol(words borrowed from Sanskrit), thisai chol(words borrowed from other languages. There are certain rules to be adhered to in borrowing words from Sanskrit. The borrowed words need to strictly conform to the Tamil phonetic system and be written in the Tamil script.
The chapter Sollathikaaram is sub divided into the following 9 sections - KiLaviyaakkam, VEtRumaiyiyal, VEtrumaimayangial, ViLimaRabu, Peyariyal, Vinaiyiyal, Idaiyiyal, Uriyiyal and the Echchaviyal.

KiLaviyaakkam- KiLaviyaakkam literally translates to word formation. This section deals with gender, number, person etc.




Peyariyal - This section deals with nouns.

Vinaiyiyal - This section deals with verbs.


Uriyiyal - This literally translates to the nature or science of qualifiers and deals with adjectives and adverbs.



The PoruLathikaaram gives the classification of land types, and seasons and defines modes of life for each of the combinations of land types and seasons for different kinds of people. This chapter is subdivided into the following 9 sections - AkaththiNaiyiyal, PuRaththiNaiyiyal, KaLaviyal, KaRpiyal, PoruLiyal, Meyppaattiyal, Uvamayiyal, SeyyuLiyal and the Marabiyal.

AkaththiNaiyiyal - This section defines the modes of personal life i.e. life of couples.

PuRaththiNaiyiyal - This section defines the modes of one's public life.

KaLaviyal -




Uvamayiyal - The name Uvamayiyal literally translates to the nature or science of metaphors.

SeyyuLiyal - This section deals with a grammar for classical Tamil Poetry based on principles of prosody.