Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, or Kaḷaviyal eṉṟa Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, literally "Iraiyanar's treatise on the love-theme, called 'The study of stolen love'" (Tamil: களவியல் என்ற இறையனார் அகப்பொருள்) is an early mediaeval work on Tamil poetics, specifically, on the literary conventions associated with the akam tradition of Tamil love poetry. The date of the work is uncertain, but it is generally taken to have been composed between the fifth and eighth centuries.
The Akapporul consists of a set of sixty nūṟpās – terse epigrams written in verse which codify rules – attributed to Iraiyanar. The received text of the accompanied by a long prose treatise on akam poetics attributed to Nakkiraṉār, which is structured as a commentary on the nūṟpās, but significantly expands on them and introduces several new ideas. The work as a whole occupies an important place in the history of Tamil literature for several reasons. The poetical argument of the work, and in particular Nakkiranar's treatment of traditional love episodes as successive scenes in an unfolding drama, was extremely influential in the development of Tamil love poetry and poetics in the mediaeval and pre-colonial periods. Secondly. Nakkiranar's treatise is both the first major Tamil work to be written entirely in prose, and the first erudite textual commentary in Tamil, and as such stylistically shaped the development of the Tamil prose and commentarial traditions. Finally, the work also contains the oldest account of the Sangam legend, which has played a significant role in modern Tamil consciousness.
|Place||Agricultural tract, riverside town|
|Time||Hour before daybreak|
|Season||All six seasons|
|Flower||Marutam (Queen's flower), lotus, red waterlily|
|Food||red rice, white rice|
|Animals||Water buffalo, otter|
|Trees||willow, queen's flower|
|Activities||harvesting, threshing and wedding rice|
|Water||Household wells, reservoirs|
Iraiyanar Akapporul is concerned with setting out the literary conventions that govern Tamil love poetry of the akam tradition. The conventions, as such, are taken from the poetics of the Sangam period. Thus a poem is a poetical snapshot of one instant in a relationship. This snapshot provides a glimpse into the lives of the couple which is in love. In addition, each poem must consist of actual words spoken by one of the persons involved in the relationship, without any commentary by an omniscient narrator. Only certain characters may speak – the hero (talaivaṉ) and heroine (talaivi), a close male friend of the hero (tōḻaṉ) or a close female friend of the heroine (tōḻi), a mother or foster-mother, priests, courtesans, bards who mediate between a wife and husband, and a few other characters. The words spoken must also be addressed to a listener – the conventions of akam poetry did not permit soliloquies. However, the listener need not necessarily be the person to whom the words are seemingly addressed. A common device in akam poetry is to have words seemingly spoken to a friend, but actually intended for the speaker's lover, who the speaker knows is eavesdropping.
The content of the poems is highly conventionalised. Each poem must belong to one of five tiṇais, poetical modes or themes. Each mode consists of a complete poetical landscape – a definite time, place, season in which the poem is set – and background elements characteristic of that landscape – including flora and fauna, inhabitants, deities and social organisation – that provide imagery for poetic metaphors. The modes are associated with specific aspects of relationships, such as the first meeting, separation, quarrelling, pining and waiting. Each mode is named for the chief flower in the landscape with which it is associated. The table to the left gives an example of the various elements which the text associates with the mode marutam.
In Sangam literature, the composition of such a poem describing an instant in a relationship was an end in itself. In the Iraiyanar Akapporul, however, its purpose is more complex. Each poem is an instant in a developing relationship, and is ordinarily preceded and followed by other poems that describe preceding and succeeding instants in the same relationship. The instants described by each poem must, therefore, also develop the plot, and the character of the persons who are the subject of the work. Thus the Iraiyanar Akapporul discusses the importance of the essential characteristics of the hero and heroine, and the tension between each of these characteristics and the love and desire of the couple for each other. Each of the moments described in successive poems, set in an appropriate tiṇai, moves this along, by describing how the couple react to each other in the context of specific situations.
The text divides the evolution of a relationship into two phases, the phase of kaḷavu or "stolen" love, and the phase of kaṟpu or "chaste" love. Love is considered to be "stolen" before marriage, and "chaste" after marriage. A number of situations can occur within each phase. Within the phase of "stolen" love, for instance, situations that may exist include a nighttime tryst (iravukkuṟi), a daytime tryst (pakaṟkuṟi), the friend urging the hero to marry the heroine (varaivu vēṭkai), the hero temporarily leaving the heroine to avoid gossip (oruvaḻittaṇattal), and so on. Similarly, within the phase of "chaste" love, situations that may arise include the newly-wed phase (kaṭimaṉai), the necessity to discharge duties (viṉai muṟṟal), separation so that the hero can earn money (poruṭpiṇi pirivu), and so on. Later texts, such as Akapporul Vilakkam, discuss a third intermediate phase, that of the marriage itself, but Iraiyanar Akapporul does not treat this as being a separate phase, though it does deal with some of the situations that later texts classify under the phase of marriage. In his commentary on Iraiyanar's penultimate verse, Nakkiranar explains in detail how, by carefully choosing the situations, speakers and tiṇais, a series of episodes can be woven into a seamless narrative detailing the history of a relationship.
The treatise contains the oldest full-length exposition of poetical devices central to akam poetry, including the five tiṇais or landscapes into which all love poems were classified, and the various kuṟṟus or speakers whose emotions and expression the poems sought to articulate. However, its principal purpose was not to clarify or explain the ancient akam tradition.
At the time the work was written, a new class of work – called ciṟṟilakkiyam, or "short literature" – was emerging in Tamil literature. Unlike the old akam tradition, which mainly focused on short poems dealing with a single, detached scene in the life of a pair of lovers, these works sought to depict a complete story. This was not in itself alien to Tamil literature, in that epics – peruṅkāppiyam in Tamil – such as the Cilappatikaram dealt with whole stories. Works of the ciṟṟilakkiyam tradition, however, sought to do so on a less grand scale, through longer series of related poems which described successive episodes that cumulatively chart the entire course of a relationship.
It is in relation to these that the text had its longest-lasting impact. By chronologically ordering the isolated moments which Tamil akam poetry, and describing how they fit into a serialised plot, the text – and in particular, Nakkiranar's commentary – related the emergent ciṟṟilakkiyam tradition to the ancient akam tradition, and thereby helped create a new approach to literature, on the basis on which a plethora of new literary forms developed in succeeding centuries. The kovai, in particular, came to dominate secular and religious akam poetry in the mediaeval period. The very last example of akam poetry, written before the tradition was suppressed by seventeenth century religious revivalism, is a 600-verse kōvai, composed by Kachchaiyappar Sivachariyar and embedded into his Tanikaippuranam.
Nakkiranar's commentary also created a basic template which all subsequent commentaries on Tamil texts followed. Each verse of the original text is followed by a commentary on that verse, which explains its content, and presents examples chosen from extant literature and where necessary quotes previous authors in support of the commentator's claims. Nakkiranar, for example, frequently quotes rules from the Tolkappiyam, Akattiyam and other works on grammar and poetics to support his literary theories, and illustrates these theories by quoting from the Pāṇṭikkōvai, Cilappatikaram and poetry of the Sangam age, weaving all these into his prose commentary in a manner that highlights his points. In addition, the comments on the initial verses, and on the final one, present additional material dealing with general themes, which goes beyond a simple elucidation of the verses on which they comment. Thus Nakkiranar, in addition to simply commenting on Iraiyanar's verses, here outlines rules for the structure and content of a commentary, discusses the manner in which conventions regarding love-poetry should be presented, and sets out general observations on history.
The work, and in particular the commentary of Nakkiranar, reinterprets the Tamil akam tradition in the light of the Shaivite bhakti tradition, which was then sweeping through Tamil Nadu in a wave of Hindu revivalism. A commentary, in the Indian tradition, plays an important role in reinterpreting and reworking the applicability of a text or tradition in the context of changing historical or social circumstances. Nakkiranar's commentary thus plays the role of reclaiming the Tamil akam tradition – secular in appearance, and associated with Jainism – for the Tamil Shaivite tradition. This reappropriation had a significant effect on the Tamil bhakti tradition, whose poems, from the ninth century onwards, make extensive use of the conventions of the akam tradition, but in the context of describing the love of a devotee for God.