Literary Culture and Religious Community in Tamil-Speaking South India
Non-Hindu communities such as Buddhists, Jains and Ājiīvakas played such an important role in South Indian literary and religious culture, and in the administration of the state between the fourth and seventh centuries that the later Śaiva traditions labeled this period the Kalabhra interregnum—the interruption of the wicked ones. Despite their presence in Tamil inscriptional, archaeological and literary record, their significance has been undermined in historical narratives that have valorised the triumph of Tamil Śaivism, casting Buddhists and Jains as ‘foreigners’ to be spurned, ridiculed and dismissed as anti-Tamil. In this pioneering study, focusing on two extant Buddhist Tamil texts—Maṇimēkalai (a sixth-century poetic narrative) and Vīracōliyam (an eleventh-century treatise on grammar and poetics)–Anne Monius, Professor of South Asian Religions at Harvard Divinity School, sheds light on the role of literature and literary culture in the formation, articulation and evolution of Tamil Buddhist religious identity and community.
Anne E. Monius is Professor of South Asian Religions at Harvard Divinity School.
The cover features S. Anvar’s photograph of a 12th century statue of the Buddha at the Paravai bus stop, Perambalur, Tamil Nadu.