Tolkappiyam, the oldest Tamil grammar text, was authored by Tolkappiyar. The name Tolkappiyam, according to S. Ilakkuvanar, “is derived from Tolkappiyan – the name of the author of the book”. The age of Tolkappiyar continues to be a disputed one. His age is fixed varying from 5320 B.C. to A.D. 500. We may also try to fix his age on the basis of the new interpretations of the old evidences.
K. Vellaivarananar, former Professor of Tamil in Annamalai University, says, “the upper limit of the period of Tolkappiyar is 5320 B.C. on the ground of the account of the three Tamil Sangams in Irayanar Ahapporul.” But the account of the Sangam, given in the introduction to the commentary on the Irayanar Ahapporual is enveloped in legend. The number of years of the existence of each Sangam crossing more than several thousands seems to be an exaggeration or on the basis of miscalculation of years. So, the fixation of the age of Tolkappiyar, on the basis of Irayanar Ahapporul’s account of Sangam is erroneous.
The age of Tolkappiyar was fixed as 5000 BPY by Maramalai Adigal;3 prior to 5000 BPY by Guna; 4000 BPY by Poet Kulanthai; 2000 B.C. by K. Subramania Pillai; prior to 1000 B.C. by S. Somasundara Bharathiar; 865 B.C. by
R. Mathivanan; and 8th century B.C. by A.S. Gnanasambandam and V.T. Chellam.
Panampaaranaar, in his introductory verse to Tolkappiyam, praises Tolkappiyar as Tolkappiyan well-versed in Aindram. R. Ragavaiyangar says that the study of Aindram, a grammatical work, was very popular during the time of Tolkappiyar and its study was neglected during the time of Ilango Adigal, the author of Silappathikaram. Aindram lost its influence after the appearance of Astadhyayi, the grammar of Panini which became very popular ever since its inception and was learnt eagerly. If Tolkappiyar had lived in the age posterior to Panini, he might have studied the grammar of Panini and would not go for a work which lost its hold upon the scholars. Panvampaaranaar also might have praised Tolkappiyar as well - versed in Astadhyayi instead of Aindram. But, as it was not so, S. Ilakkuvanar concludes, “Tholkappiyar might have lived in an age anterior to Panini.” The age of Panini is fixed varying from 700 B.C. to 350 B.C.
The Sanskrit words found the way into the Tamil language during the time of Tolkappiyar only. That is why, Tolkappiyar had set rules for the borrowing of the Sanskrit words. If it had happened in the age preceding him, the rule might have been framed by his predecessors and he would not have failed to mention in his work. He was the first grammarian to make rules regarding the use of Sanskrit words in Tamil. The Sanskrit language came to Tamil Nadu along with the Aryans who, according to K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, had started entering Tamil Nadu from 1000 B.C. So, S. Ilakkuvanar suggests 1000 B.C. as the upper limit of the age of Tolkappiyar. Further, as there are no references to Jainism and Buddhism in Tolkappiyam, S. Ilakkuvanar says, “the lower limit of the age of Tolkappiyar may be taken as 600 B.C., the age of Buddha.” Finally, he concludes, “Tholkappiyar might have lived in the age between 1000 B.C. and 600 B.C. It may be somewhere about 800 B.C. or 700 B.C.”
7th century B.C. was fixed as the age of Tolkappiyam by G. Devaneya Paavanar, 590 B.C. by Era. Elangumaran, 5th century B.C. by M. Varadarajan and C. Balasubramanian; 4th century B.C. by M. Srinivasa Iyengar; 3rd century B.C. by K.G. Sankara Iyer; and A.D. 4th or 5th century by S. Vaiapuri Pillai.
Conclusion: Panampaaranaar mentions in the Paayiram of Tolkappiyam the teacher of Athangodu as a great preacher of virtues, well-versed in four Marais (Vedas). Nachinaarkkiniyar, the commentator of Tolkappiyam, points out that the four Marais here do not mean Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas; but they mean Taittiriyam, Pausyam, Talavakaram, and Sama Veda. Further, he says that the Vedas were compiled by Vyasa, only after Tolkappiyam. Therefore, the age of Rig and other Vedas was later than Tolkappiyam. D.D. Kosambi says, “The Rig vedic hymns were properly edited, written down, and commented in South India during the second half of the fourteenth century B.C. The text had till then been memorised syllable by syllable (as a few scholars in India still do to this day), but not generally committed to writing.” This confirms that Tolkappiyam might have been written before fourteenth century B.C.
According to M. Sundarraj, “Vedas and Rig Vedic Sanskrit have been considerably influenced and shaped by Dravidian cultural factors, that is, linguistic, religious, social etc.” Further, he says, “at the first stage of impact between the highly developed Dravidian civilization and the nomadic and vigorous Aryan people, a process of civilization of the latter took place – as elsewhere – leading to the birth of the Sanskrit language and the evolution of Sanskrit literary conventions from the Dravidian base. The first result was the coming into being of a mixed language, which we call today Sanskrit. The material for the initial literary compositions in this language were taken from the culture of the teachers, who obvisously were the Dravidians.”
M. Sundarraj compares the 33 gods of Rig Veda with the 33 Tamil letters mentioned in Tolkappiyam and tables as follows: The two lists of 33 may be placed in juxtaposition to enable their relationship being examined in greater detail.
Devas or Letter or
Adityas 12 12 Vowels
Vasus 8 8 consonants which
cannot begin a word
Rudras 11 10 consonants which can
Vasatkara 1 1 Aidham
Prajapati 1 1 Kutrialugaram (short u)
1 Kutrialigaram (short i)
According to him, “It will be seen from this list how close a concordance exists between the two. The Adityas being representatives of the Sun, the life-giver, correspond not only in number but even in name, to the 12 vowels, which in Tamil are called Uyir (àJ˜) or ‘life-spirit’ or ‘the principles of life’.”
Then he proceeds to explain in detail to show the concordance that exists between the 33 gods of Rig Veda and the 33 Tamil letters. Finally, he declares: “This very close correspondence cannot, in my view, be attributed to pure coincidence. Apparently we have here evidence once again of Dravidian (Tamil) cultural features appearing in a much disguised, or masked form in the Rig Veda. Briefly we may speculate in conclusion the reasons for this secrecy, whose clues were lost so early in Vedic history. Apparently the first composer in the Sanskrit language of the literature which formed subsequently the base of the Vedas drew their material from the Dravidian sources with which they were fully familiar.” This prompted him to say, “… that essentially, and more or less completely, the Rig Vedic cultural elements are of Dravidian provenance (more correctly Tamilian, the Indus valley civilisation being apparently a proto-Tamilian one), and that it may not be too far-fetched to describe the Rig Veda as a sort of Tamil Panchangam.” Thus the convincing arguments of M. Sundarraj lead to the inference that Tolkappiyam precedes Rig Veda.
K. Nedunchezhiyan elaborately discusses the age of Tolkappiyam in his well-researched Tamil work titled Tolkappiyam – Tirukkural: Kaalamum Karuthum. He endorses the views of M. Sundarraj and proceeds to point out further influences of Tolkappiyam on Rig Veda. Tolkappiyam divides a year into six seasons, each having two months. Rig Veda also divides a year into six seasons which, according to
K. Nedunchezhiyan, was due to the influence of Tolkappiyam. Tolkappiyar mentions Varunan as the sea-god. Rig Vedic Aryans were not sea-farers; yet, Varunan is mentioned as a sea-god in Rig Veda. K. Nedunchezhiyan opines that this was also due to the influence of Tolkappiyam. He further states two reasons for the influence of Tolkappiyam on Rig Veda. One is that Rig Veda was compiled in Tamil Nadu; and the other is that Rig Veda followed the Tamil letter tradition. So, he concludes that the age of Tolkappiyam is prior to Rig Veda.
Kodinilai, Kandhazhi, and Valli, referred in the Verse 88 – Porul of Tolkappiyam, according to S. Ilakkuvanar, “are interpreted by some scholars as to denote Sun, Fire and Moon, the worship of which appears to be prevalent in ancient Tamil Nadu”. K. Nedunchezhiyan opines that these three represent Tantric Cult and points out that seals indicating these three traditions mentioned in Tolkappiyam were found out in the Indus valley. So, he says that Tolkappiyam belonged to the age of the last phase of the Indus valley civilization i.e. 1500 B.C.
The Paayiram of Tolkappiyam clearly states that Tolkappiyam was presented in the court of Nilantharuthiruvin Pandyan at his capital Kapatapuram in the presence of Athankottu Aasaan and other poets. Therefore, almost all Tamil scholars agree that Tolkappiyam belonged to the last phase of the Second Tamil Sangam held at Kapatapuram, which was engulfed by the sea around 1500 B.C. Therefore, we may safely conclude that Tolkappiyam might have been written in 1500 B.C.