(GIST OF YOJANA) Tholkappiam: The Ancient Grammar

(GIST OF YOJANA) Tholkappiam: The Ancient Grammar


Tholkappiam: The Ancient Grammar


  • Tholkappiam, a grammatical treatise in Tamil is the most ancient one, the age of which is considered by most as the fifth or sixth century B.C. No other contemporary work is available. The massive devastations that took place in the seas of the Southern Peninsula had wiped off large quantities of palm leaf manuscripts which contained many works of grammar and literature. Tholkappiam itself in the course of prescribing rules and regulations for various genres of literature and classifications of grammar refers to many ancient works which we do not know in detail.
  • Winking of eyes and snapping of fingers is the measure of sound in pronunciation as enunciated by scholars of minute perception.
  • When ‘th’ comes, the stay of three-dotted letter & is not a fault according to scholastic.
  • The glorious schodars had devised and stated emphatically as parts of a poem.
  • The verse, commentary, book, utterance, riddle, satire, proverb, all the seven that in vogue inside the four boundaries of the three glorious patrons are said as the prosodic regulations by scholars.
  • The scholars have poeticised that the aphorism is of multifaceted use.

The Antiquity of Tholkappiam:

  • The Archaeological and historical evidences prove that Tholkappiam had emerged some two thousand five hundred years ago when the whole of the Indian subcontinent was ruled by several kings and chieftains.
  • Tholkappiam states that the Tamil land was ruled by ‘three famous munificent patrons’. In the prefatory verse of Tholkappiam, there is the mention of the name of the Pandya king. The Pandya king has afforded the dwelling sites to the Tamil people who had lost their land in a vast deluge. An apparent reference to this is found in ‘Kalitokai’, one of the Sangam classical anthologies.

The Prefatory Verse:

  • A prefatory verse to Tholkappiam rendered by one Panamparanar, a contemporary to Tholkappiar provides the following valuable information in fifteen lines of the verse.
  • The Tamil land in the age of Tholkappiam is in between the northern Venkata hills and the southern Kumari. This Kumari denotes the hills that disappeared later.
  • Tholkappiam deals with the written and spoken Tamil versions that prevailed in Tamil land.
  • Tholkappiam is a three-fold work dealing with the alphabets, words, content and form.
  • Tholkappiar had referred to the ancient Tamil works and collected all appropriate materials of his age and anthologiscd into an impeccable dissertation.
  • Tholkappiam was presented before the learned audience of the Pandya king named Nilamtharu thriuvil Pandian. The Chairperson at that time was Athankottu Asan. This Athankottu Asan had been an exponent of ethical justice and had mastery in the four Vedas.
  • Tholkappiar had mastery over the lndhra Vyakama.
  • Tire author of Tholkappiam is Tholkappiar, which is his proper name, and the work by him is named with that.

Structure and Composition of the Work:

  • Tholkappiam is a grammatical work and it is composed of three major divisions. They are:
  • Eluththu Athikaram - the chapter on the alphabets. 
  • Col Athikaram - the chapter on the words 
  • Porul Athikaram- the chapter on the content and form.
  • Eluththu Athikaram – The Chapter on the Alphabets.
  • This chapter on the alphabets of the Tamil language, contains nine subdivisions. In these, it tells about the following.
  • The thirty primary letters starting from ‘a’ to ‘n’.
  • The three dependant letters, the short u, the short ‘e’ and three dotted letters ‘Aytham’.
  • Coalescence of Letters 
  • Tholkappiam reserves six sections of the first chapter to the coalescence of Tamil letters. In those, it enunciates the following:

1. Which letter will coalesce with which letter?

2. The occurring of hard consonants in the coalescence.

3. When two vowels coalesce, the process of assimilation (prevention of hiatus).

4. The loss of a vowel or consonant when two words coalesce.

5. One consonant turns into another consonant in the combination of words.

  • Col Atlilkuruin-The Chapter on the Words
  • This chapter deals mostly with the four kinds of words. They are— nouns, verbs, various types of particles and indeclinable or attributes. The words when they combine, certain particles will not be visibly found. Such combinations are called ‘Tokai’.

There are two kinds of Tokais or combinations found when words unite to combine. They are:

  • Declinable combination.
  • Mon-declinable combination
  • In the declinable combination, the case particles are imbibed. The first and last declensions have no case markers. From the second case to the seventh case, the case markers are as below:
  • 1 The second case Accusative Case particle ‘ai’ 
  • The third case Instrumental Case particle ‘odu’
  • The fourth case Dative Case particle ‘km’
  • The fifth case Ablative Case particle ‘il’ ‘
  • The sixth case Possessive Case particle ‘atu’ 
  • The seventh case Locative Case particle, ‘kan
  • The Four Types of Words
  • Tholkappiar tells about four types of words, and they are:

1. The word that is in usage in the native Tamil land).

2. Synonyms and homonyms.

3. The dialect in usage in the twelve parts of Tamil land.

4. The words of northern land.

The Formation of Phrases:

  • Six types of elliptical phrases are grammaticised by Tholkappiar. They are:
  • a) An appositional compound with adjectival relation to a noun.
  • b) An elliptical compound with a verbal root.
  • c) An elliptical compound with a conjunctive particle.
  • d) An elliptical compound with a sign of comparison.
  • e) A compound with the case marker elliptical.
  • f) An elliptical compound based on one of the above said compounds used figuratively.
  • All these elliptical phrases are widely used in writing and spoken usages.
  • 3. Porul Athikaram - A Chapter on the Content and Form The third chapter, ‘Porul Athikaram’ denotes the subject matter and formative techniques of a poem. The verse-making skill and the subtle way of expression are elucidated in a grammatical form. The subject matter and the forms had been there long before Tholkappiar, and endorsing them adds more new components. This Porul Athikaram is a remarkable part of this grammatical work.
  • It speaks more of the content of poetry, and it is really quintessence of the interior and exterior life of ancient Tamils. By this, Tholkappiar has built up a monumental edifice which has placed him on the acme of world-known grammarians.
  • The above said five geographical divisions with their environmental factors are accustomed to five different mental moods or attitudes and they are as below:
  • Mullai: Lovers waiting for the union
  • Kurinji: The union of lovers
  • Marutham: The sulking of lovers
  • Neythal: The pitiful mood
  • Palai: The separation

Way forward:

  • To summarise, Tholkappiam - an age-old Tamil grammar has many singularities such as:

1. A grammar of spoken and written tongue.

2. A grammar that has recorded the past expertise of grammatical traditions.

3. A grammar in which the ‘Porulathikaram’ the two folded walks of life, the Aliam and Puram.

4. A grammar not only deals with the usage of language but also speaks of the cultural history and the geographical and environmental studies of ancient Tamil land, the psychological contemplations and metaphysical quests of the ancient Tamil people and above all the verse making techniques of age old Tamil tradition. 

  • The Tamils are fortunate to recover Tholkappiam intact without any loss which has escaped from huge deluges that usurped many valuable works of their glorious ancestors.



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Courtesy: Yojana