Projects that are currently on, and those on the anvil


Nature, Culture and Literature: Landscapes of Southern India

Tamil is an ancient language and one of the two classical languages of India. It is also the only contemporary language that has a continuous link with its classical past. The earliest evidence of Tamil literature dates back to the period called Cangam, which is roughly around 3rd century BCE.

Three major corpora of work constitute the Cangam literature, Tolkappiam (old composition), Ettutokai (Eight Anthologies) and Pattupattu (Ten songs). The Cangam literature is not a work of a single poet but a compilation. Altogether there are 2389 poems attributed to about 460 poets (A. K. Ramanujam (Trans), The Interior Landscape, Love poems from a Classical Tamil, Clarion Books, Delhi.).

The Eight Anthologies consists of two major themes – Akam and Puram. Akam means the “inner part or the interior” and Puram the “outer part or the exterior”. The “inner part” talks about love poems that vividly describes emotions, moods, relationships and magically intertwines them with their respective landscapes or ‘mindscapes’. The “outer part” deals with things that are public – heroes, kings, war and death. Landscape is a component, to which both Akam and Puram provide extensive reference.

Both Akam and Puram divide the landscape (southern part of today’s peninsular India) into five major divisions. Kurinci – hilly and mountainous regions
Mullai – forested land
Palai – desert or arid landscape (desert should not be taken in its literal meaning, but refers to a mountainous or forest land that goes parched and dry in the summer heat)
Marutam – agricultural land and
Neytal – sandy seashores

The poems describe in detail the seasons, time, trees, flowers, animals, and other physical aspects of the South Indian landscape. The poems divide a year into into six seasons namely: the rains, the cold season, early frost, late frost, early summer and late summer. A day is divided into five time units, namely sunrise, midday, sunset, nightfall and dead of the night. As per convention a season and a time of the day is assigned to each landscape to best explain its characteristics. It is these elements (season, time, trees etc.) help us to photographically reconstruct the type of landscape portrayed in the poems.

Photographic Interpretation
Photographic interpretation of landscape in Akam and Puram poems is the central theme of this proposed project. In an exercise such as this, there is bound to be some ambiguity as the metaphor associated with the landscape changes with respect to the point of view of the poet, the photographer, and the viewer. The photographs ranging from the historical to the contemporary will be guided by clues provided in the poem. The photographer attempts to record the landscapes that will have a host of reference to Archeology, History, Geography and Ecology of contemporary South India.