Modern Asian Studies



Corruption and Redemption: The Legend of Valluvar and Tamil Literary History


Stuart  Blackburn a1
a1 SOAS, University of London

Abstract

This [the Valluvar legend] is one of the traditions which are so repugnant to inveterate popular prejudice that they appear too strange for fiction, and are probably founded on fact. (Robert Caldwell 1875:132).

If we now recognize that literary history is more than a history of literature, it is perhaps less widely accepted that the writing of literary history is an important subject for literary historiography. Yet literary histories are a rich source for understanding local conceptions of both history and literature. More accessible than archaeology, more tangible than ethnology, literary histories are culturally constructed narratives in which the past is reimagined in the light of contemporary concerns. Certainly in nineteenth-century India, the focus of this essay, literary history was seized upon as evidence to be advanced in the major debates of the time; cultural identities, language ideologies, civilization hierarchies and nationalism were all asserted and challenged through literary histories in colonial India. Asserted and challenged by Europeans, as well as Indians.