Who Was ‘She’ in Ancient Tamil Literature?


  • Jency GRACIA LOURDES Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore
  • Francesco PERONO CACCIAFOCO Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore




historical semantics, Tamil, ancient Tamil literature


The representations of women in ancient Tamil literature are multifarious, and the development of such perceptions is a non-linear process. While existing studies provide extensive analyses of ancient literary works, it is still unclear how the perceptions of women eventually shaped a specific rubric for modern Tamil women to follow. Ancient Tamil literature characterises the feminine identity as a constantly evolving entity, not restricted to or encapsulated by any particular archetype or trait. In order to truly understand the role of the different portrayals of women in literature in eventually forming a “Tamil” identity, it is vital to unearth the multi-faceted intentions and motivations of writers who authored esteemed literary works, such as the Tolkāppiyam. The “Tamil” identity (or the norms one accepts and adheres to in order to qualify or identify as “Tamil”) has deep roots in ancient Tamil literature. Tamil Literature was not only pregnant with meaning to Tamils back then but also now, with effects proliferating within modern Tamil society in ways more than one, especially in the social and psychological domains.