Tamil is one of the four dominant Dravidian languages in South India. Other three are Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. Contributions to the Tamil literature are mainly from Tamil people from South India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, from Sri Lankan Tamils and from Tamil diaspora.
Sangam Age: The early Sangam literature, starting from the 5th century BC contains anthologies of various poets dealing with many aspects of life including love, war, social values and religion. This was followed by the early epics and moral literature composed by Hindu, Jain and Buddhist authors. From the 6th to 12th century AD the Tamil devotional poems heralded the great Bhakti movement throughout the country. In fact, the Sangam Age is considered by the Tamil people as the golden era of Tamil language.
Post-Sangam Period: The three centuries after the Sangam Age are notable for an increase in the mutual interaction of Sanskrit and Tamil. The Buddhist and Jain authors flourished during this period. The best known of these works is Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar.
Cilappatikaram is one of the outstanding works of general literature of this period. Its companion epic Manimekala is Buddhist in philosophy. Jivaka Chintamani is the most noteworthy work of the Jain cult.
Hindu Devotional Period: After the fall of the Buddhist Kalabhras around 500 AD, a reaction rose from the suppressed Hindus. The Kalabhras were replaced by the Pandyas in the south and the Pallavas in the north. During this Hindu revival, a huge Shaiva and Vaishnava literature was created.
Mediaeval Literature: The mediaeval period was the period of Imperial Cholas when entire south India was under a single administration between the 11th and 13th centuries. The religious canons of Saiva and Vaishnava sects were beginning to be systematically collected and categorised.
The period from 1300 to 1650, marked as Vijaynagar and Nayak period, was a scene of constant change in the political situation of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil country was invaded by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate who defeated the Pandya kingdom. And then the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate prompted the rise of the Bahamani Sultans in the Deccan. Eventually, the Vijaynagar empire rose from the ashes of the kingdoms of Hoysalas and Chalukyas and conquered entire south India. In this period there was a large output of philosophical and religious works, such as Sivanandabodham by Meykandar. The 17th century also witnessed for the first time literary works by Muslim and Christian authors.
Modern Era: During the 18th and the 19th century Tamil Nadu underwent a deep cultural shock with the imposition of Western cultural influences. The Hindu religious establishments attempted to stem the tide of change to safeguard the Tamil cultural values. Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai (1815-1876) wrote more than eighty books. His most famous work is the Nandan Charitam on the life of Nandanar who, having been born in a sociologically lower caste, faced and overcame the social obstacles in achieving his dream of visiting the Chidambaram Temple. Another great Tamil poet of this period was Subramanya Bharathi. His works are stimulating in progressive themes like freedom and feminism. He also introduced a new poetic style into the somewhat rigid style of Tamil poetry writing.
The novel as a genre of literature arrived in Tamil in the third quarter of the 19th century. Its emergence was perhaps facilitated by the growing population of Tamils with Western education and exposure to popular English fiction. Madhaviah, a great writer of this period, tells his story in a realistic way with a searching criticism of the upper-class society—particularly the sexual exploitation of girls by older men. Jayakanthan, the real trendsetter in modem Tamil novels, has not only enriched the high traditions of Tamil literature but has also made an outstanding contribution towards the shaping of Indian literature. Since the 1990s the post-modernism writers emerged major figures including Jayamohan, S. Ramakrishnan, Charu Nivedita, etc.
Tamil Periodicals and Journals: The increasing demand of the literate public caused a number of periodicals and journals to be published, and these, in turn, provided a platform for authors to publish their work. The first Tamil periodical was published by the Christian Religious Tract Society in 1831. In 1942, Dina Thanthi (Daily Telegraph) was started in Madurai with simultaneous editions in Madras, Salem and Tiruchirapalli. It has become one of the largest Tamil language dailies by circulation within a few years and has been a leading Tamil daily since the 1960s.
Popular Fiction: Detective fiction has enjoyed wide popularity in Tamil Nadu since the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s, Tamilvanan’s detective books carried a variety of themes, styles and readers. From the 1980s to the present, leading authors include Subha, Pattukottai Prabhakar and Rajesh Kumar.
Aruna Nandhini is one of the recent Tamil novelists who has earned the hearts of many Tamil readers, and her story covers family subjects, romance, reality, with various dimensions and some humour added for the readers to enjoy their leisure. However, sales of Tamil pulp fiction have declined since the mid-1990s, and many writers have turned to the more lucrative TV serial market that remains a thriving scene.