Ciṉṉattampip Pulavar’s Kalvaḷaiyantāti, or: Why did an Eighteenth-century Srilankan Tamil Poet Play Such games?


This paper studies a once highly popular composition—in its own way, a minor masterpiece—composed in the eighteenth century in the Jaffna area by a virtuoso poet named Villavarāyar Ciṉṉattampi at the well-known site of Kalvaḷai, today Sandilipay, sadly notorious for a massacre of Tamil civilians by the Srilankan army that took place there on July 24, 1983. Situated close to Jaffna city, Kalvaḷai is home to an old Gaṇapati temple that inspired our poet’s work. Ciṉṉattampi (1716-1780) was the son of Mutaliyār Nākanātar Villavarāyar, who was commissioned by the Dutch to produce a compendium of Tamil customary law, the Teca-vaḷa-mālai. The poet studied with an exacting Tamil poet known as Kuḻankaittampirāṉ and is supposed to have begun composing poetry in Tamil as a seven-year-old boy. There are stories, still current, about his astonishing ability to improvise verses from an early age. He is also supposed to have solved, while still a child, a difficult line in the Kamparāmāyaṇam that no one else could interpret correctly. The family claimed descent from the medieval Tamil kings of Jaffna.
See also: David Shulman
Last updated on 05/25/2020