How many years would it take to master the Tamil language? The simple answer is that no one can complete studying Tamil in one’s own life time. The Tamil proverb says ‘’ kalvi karai ila, karpavar naal sila‘’(Art is long, Life is short). Another saying goes that even the most learned persons say ‘’Katrathu kai alavu, kallaathathu ulaka alavu’’ (What one has learnt is a handful, what one has to acquire is as expansive as the world). No wonder Sir Isaac Newton , who discovered the three basic laws physics said , ‘‘ I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me’’.

Tamil is a very rich language and produced literature for 2,000 years without a break. Even If we just take the poems composed in the first 1,000 years , it would be impossible to study all of them within one life time, let alone understanding the full depth of the poems. Tamil stands on par with other ancient languages like Sanskrit, Hebrew, Chinese, Greek and Latin. Tamil Cankam literature consists of 18 books; that is, 2,381 poems sung by 473 poets running into 30,000 lines composed in the first few centuries of modern era. The oldest Tamil book is a grammatical treatise called Tolkappiyam. Following the Cankam period we had epic period which saw five great Tamil epics including the most famous Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai. 18 books on ethics including Tirukkural were written after this. If we take in to account the Thevaram, Thiruvasagam, Thirumanthiram and the Divya Prabandham sung by the great Four Saivaite Saints and 12 Vaishnavaite saints one has to take several births to complete studying Tamil. Don’t take my word for it. Take a calculator in your hand and do the calculation for yourself.

Tolkappiyam -3,999 lines
Cankam Literature Ettu thokai, Pathup paattu- 30,000 lines
Silappadhikaram -5,001 lines
Manimekalai – 4759 lines
Perunkathai- 16,230 lines
18 ethical books including Tirukkural- 3,250 poems (10,348 lines)
Panniru Thirumurai (Thevaram etc.)- 18,326 poems/hymns
Divya Prabandham – 4,000 poems/hymns
Kamba Ramayanam- 10,500 poems
Seevaka Chinthamani- 3,145 poems
Thayumanavar- 1,454 hymns
Arunagiri Thiruppugaz- 1,361 hymns
Ramalinga Swamikal- 5,800 hymns

The last three poets lived in the past few centuries. I have not yet dealt with Villipuththurar Mahabharatham, Nalavenba by Pukazenthi, Siledai (double meaning) poems of Kavi Kalamegam, 18 Puranam translations running in to several thousand lines, Kallaadam, all the grammar books including Nannul, Nikandu /dictionaries, Siddhar songs etc. Now do the maths with your calculator. Each one will read it at their own speed. If you read a few poems every day understanding every line of it, how many years would it take?

If one discovers the beauty of the poems composed by poets like Bharathiyar in the last century, you wouldn’t waste a single minute! Enjoy reading Tamil books.