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Meru Foundation And MIT Samskritam Presents Sanskrit And Tamil Language And Literature


Over two Saturdays, enthusiasts of literature and languages came to two very diverse venues to hear Dr. Rajalakshmi Srinivasan, a scholar visiting from India, talk about Tamil – Sanskrit grammar and the Kamban-Valmiki Ramayana. Over 70 people at MIT and with standing room only at the Boxboro public library, beating the cold weather people came to listen to the relationship between the grammars of Tamil and Sanskrit, and to the Sanskrit and regional versions of the epic Ramayana.

Dr. Srinivasan spoke about two great masters, Panini and Tolkappiar, who both wrote the earliest grammars known, in the form of the Ashtadhyayi in Sanskrit and Tolkappiam in Tamil. These texts have influenced the two languages up to the modern period. Dr. Srinivasan explored what makes both these languages phenomenal and their contribution to the development of human thought.  She gave several examples in the both languages of sentence structure and word-formation through sandhi-samasa, which highlight the capacity of aesthetic delight that these two languages have brought over the millennia in the form of literature and poetry. She detailed a form of Tamil poetry that used geography of land types to express love. The land forms were divided into five regions, the mountain, forest, ocean, fields and parched waste lands each evoked distinct aspects of love associated with specific colors, words and symbols. In the modern period, she remarked, “we see this change into more direct ways of expressing love and to address the lover.” She also highlighted how the two languages have survived periods of growth and decline without losing their originality.

In the second lecture, Prof Srinivasan explored the different versions of the Ramayana written in Sanskrit by Valmiki, in Tamil by Kamban and in Avadhi by Tulsidas. The context and content of these texts were presented with illustrations and paintings that brought out the beauty and depth of the respective narratives and styles of the epic story of Lord Rama. The differences between the texts were also emphasized, for example, the importance of Rama as an avatar in Kamban and Tulasidas as distinct from the emphasis on Rama as a King in Valmiki. Dr. Srinivasan’s singing of both the Tamil and Sanskrit excerpts was wonderful as was her ability to highlight the interpretations given by Kamban and Valmiki.


Dr. Rajalakshmi Srinivasan is an accomplished scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil languages and their literature. She has spent a lifetime studying and researching texts from both Tamil and Sanskrit. She has translated a famous historical Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan as well as short stories of Subramania Bharatiar and Kalki Krishnamurthy into Sanskrit. Currently, she is the chairperson of Poorna Pragya Samshodhana Mandiram a Sanskrit Research Institute in Bangalore, India. She is also editing and publishing an Advaita commentary on the Brahma-sutra titled Vaiyasika Ratnamala. She was a Sanskrit Professor at a college affiliated with Madras University. She has received several awards and honors for her translations of Tamil and Sanskrit literature.

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