Extraordinary Child: Poems from a South Indian Devotional Genre

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Paula Richman
University of Hawai'i Press, 1997 - Foreign Language Study - 297 pages
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For hundreds of years Tamil poets have been composing devotional texts in which they adopt the voice of a mother and address praises to an extraordinary child. The poems, called pillaittamil (literally "Tamil for a child"), form a major genre of Tamil literature. Since the twelfth century, when the first known pillaittamil was written in honor of a Chola king, many of these poems have been composed in praise of Murugan and South Indian goddesses, as well as saints and venerated monastic abbots. In recent times pillaittamils have been dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, the Virgin Mary, and Baby Jesus, as well as notable political figures and moviestars. Extraordinary Child provides a sampler of translations, from, and analysis of, seven pillaittamils of particular religious, aesthetic, or political significance. Interspersed throughout the translations are essays on topics such as the virtuoso displays of poetic skill in poems addressed to the moon (a standard component of pillaittamil), the influence of pillaittamil on temple art, and the ways in which pillaittamil have been used for political purposes. An introduction initiates the reading into the pillaittamil tradition by explaining what a pillaittamil does and how contemporary Western audiences can learn to savor the subtleties of the poetry.

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Asking for the Moon Taming the Tiger
A Temple and a Pillaittamil

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About the author (1997)

Paula Richman is Irvin E. Houck Professor in the Humanities, Department of Religion, at Oberlin College.

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