The 2021 Asian L&L Markus Memorial Lecture was delivered by Professor David Shulman of the Hebrew University on May 4, 2021. His talk is titled, “Half-Bird, Half-Fish: The New Grammar of Time Past in Seventeenth-century Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit.”
Although every generation has to discover, or rediscover, or reinvent its own links to the cultural past, there are extended moments of civilizational change when the presence of the past, and the modes of linking past to present, become highly charged themes. Such was the case in thirteenth-century Florence and Sienna, in fourteenth-century Shiraz, and in early-modern South India (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries). This was a period when a new genre — the self-contained literary prabandha, meant to be read from beginning to end over a few days, in homes, literary salons, royal courts, or temples, with a range of unusual themes — appeared in Sanskrit and all the south Indian languages. The Tamil case is particularly interesting because of the continuing influence of very ancient poetic grammars within a literary and intellectual ecology that had rendered these grammars largely obsolete and put in place a new vision of what constitutes poetry and truth. The lecture will look at a story that develops this topic in a particularly dramatic and lyrical way — the tale of the pedantic poet Nakkīrar and his transformation into a “modern” intellectual, as told by the famous author Tuṟaimaṅkalam Civappirakāca Cuvāmi in his Cīkāḷattippurāṇam, set in the beautiful temple site of Kāḷahasti in the Tamil-Telugu border region. We will also look at an earlier Telugu version, by Dhūrjaṭi, of this same emblematic narrative, and at parallel Sanskrit texts, with the aim of formulating a more general understanding of how early-modern South India came to terms with novel ideas about time, history, and expressive speech.
Professor Shulman is an Israeli Indologist and regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the languages of India. His research embraces many fields, including the history of religion in South India, Indian poetics, Tamil Islam, Dravidian linguistics, and Carnatic music. He is now Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He has been a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities since 1988.