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Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu (An Epigraphical Study)

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Item Code: NAV831
Author: Chithra Madhavan
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788124607008
Pages: 260
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 550 gm
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About The Book

Education, especially Vedic and Vedantic, along with allied subjects, was a prime focus of the rulers of the Tamil kingdoms. This book highlights the educational initiatives during the reigns of the Pallava, Pandya, Cola, Vijayanagara, Nayaka and other kings. The inscriptions across the Tamil country talk about Sanskrit education in detail. Agraharas, ghatikas, temple-colleges and mathas were the main educational institutions propagating Sanskrit texts. The teachers were handsomely paid and bhatta-vrtti was the norm of the day; villages were donated to them — either as ekabhoga or as agrahara (brahmadeya). There were poets and composers among the rulers, as an embodiment of their dedication to education. The numerous grants act as authentic sources of information on the reigns of these rulers, scholars, composers and educational institutions across many centuries — beginning from the Pallava times.

Giving a deep insight, this book is an invaluable source of information for students and researchers in the ancient and medieval history of India.

About The Author

Chithra Madhavan completed her MA and MPhil from the Department of Indian History, University of Madras and her PhD from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore. She is the recipient of two post-doctoral fellowships from the Department of Culture, Government of India and from the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. She is the author of five books — History and Culture of Tamil Nadu (in two volumes) and Vishnu Temples of South India (in three volumes). She has written the text for a coffee-table book Snapshots of a Bygone Era —A Century of Images which contains about a 100 photographs of monuments of India. Chithra has co-edited a book South India Heritage — An Introduction containing approximately 500 articles on various aspects of the heritage and culture of South India and has edited a book on sculptures for Kalakshetra Foundation. She has contributed about a hundred articles on temple architecture and allied subjects to the multi-volume Encylcopaedia of Hinduism.


I Had selected the topic Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu: An Epigraphical Study for which the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi, had granted me a General Post-doctoral Fellowship. I would like to thank ICHR for selecting me for this fellowship which enabled me to take up a detailed study of this topic that covers the period from the time of the Pallava dynasty starting from c. fifth century CE to the time of the Maratha rulers of the eighteenth century CE.

I thank Dr. K.V. Raman, Professor and Head (retd.), Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras, for all his help and encouragement at every stage of my research. I am very fortunate to have had the benefit of his scholarly advice.

My very sincere thanks to my parents for their sustained support over the years. I specially thank my mother Smt. Charu Madhavan for translating many of the Sanskrit inscriptions for me. I am lucky to have had the support of my sincere well-wishers Shri L.J. Krishnamurthi, Smt. Shobha Jayaraman and Dr Padma Seshadri and my heartfelt gratitude to them for the same.

I am extremely grateful to Dr C.S. Radhakrishnan, Professor and Head, Department of Sanskrit, Pondicherry University, Puducherry, for writing the foreword to this book. To have a scholar of his eminence contribute the foreword is truly an honour for me.

I wish to thank Shri M.N. Srinivasan for the rare photographs of the enamatijeri copper-plate inscription of the sixteenth century CE. Particular thanks are due to Shri Susheel K. Mittal, Director, D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, for the interest and enthusiasm with which he has brought out this book.


THE literary and epigraphical wealth of Tamil Nadu are the most authentic and important sources of information about various spheres of activity in the ancient and medieval times. This is true of the field of learning and literature also. A study of the literature of the earliest historical period of the Tamil country known as the Sangam age — c. third century BCE to C. third century CE — clearly reveals that a lot of focus was given to learning and literature. Education, which must be at the bottom of any secular or aesthetic achievement of any people, was not merely known and encouraged but was a widespread social activity.' The importance given to education in the Sangam age is seen from the Tirukkural which states "the wealth which never declines is not riches but learning".

In the subsequent ages, during the times of the Pallavas, Panclyas, Colas, Vijayanagara and Nayaka, and also of the rule of the lesser chieftains, the encouragement given to education was one of the major duties of the kings. This study focuses on the Sanskrit education and literature from the Pallava times, mainly Vedic and Vedantic in nature, besed on the information gleaned from epigraphs. The lithic epigraphs etched on the walls and pillars of temples as well as the copper-plate grants provide plenty of data on the subjects taught and works written in Sanskrit during times bygone. In addition to these important inscriptions, there are many Sanskrit texts which have come down to the present day, clearly showing the high standard of Sanskrit of those times. Many of the kings of the important dynasties as well as some of the lesser chieftains were extremely erudite and composed poems and dramas in Sanskrit themselves. While many of these texts are still studied by Sanskritists, many unfortunately have been lost in the tide of time and only the names of some of these works, by way of inscriptional evidence, survive till today to remind us of their copious literary output.

Whether they were by themselves scholars or not, it was an important duty of these rulers to patronize the learned of their land by giving them grants of land and money so that they could continue with their work of studying and teaching without hindrance. Such royal donations to promote individual learning are seen from many an epigraph in Tamil Nadu. The land given to the learned brahmanas were called bhatta-vrttis. One of the earliest inscriptions (c. fifth century CE), the Omgodu grant of Pallava Vijayaskandavarman is a clear example of a bhatta-vrtti; although the technical phrase bhatta-vrtti is not used in this grant, it is however a gift to a brahmarta in recognition of his learning.' The practice of endowing such bhatta-vrttis is continued from the Pallava times, down the centuries including the Vijayanagara period. The inscriptions which give the details of the bhatta-vrtti also provide a lot of information about the qualifications of the bhattas who were found worthy enough to receive a piece of land or sometimes a whole village. The inscriptions repeatedly mention that the brahmarla donees of the grants were extremely well-read. They are described as masters in the Vedas, Vedangas (consisting of Chandakalpa, Vyakararia, fyotisa, Nirukta, Siksa and Chandoviciti), Itihasa, Purana, Sariakhya, Yama and Niyama.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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