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Vairam – Founder of Karka Nirka

30 July 2011 3 Comments

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes!

Today, in Coffee With Sundar, I am happy to introduce you to a passionate young man.. who started just like you and me.. when he was young.. he hated the language courses.. But he didn’t know that fate had other plans for him.. He has fallen in love with the Sangam Tamil.. and leaving no stones unturned to spread its beauty! He is also the founder of the website – Karka Nirka! and a role model for Indian youth!

Me: Sundar Rajan G S
PV: Palaniappan Vairam – Founder, Karka Nirka

Me: Hi Vairam, Welcome to this show on CWS.. Can you speak about yourself.. your childhood days, education etc..

PV: I am a Telecom Engineer based in Washington DC. Most of my childhood happened in Gopalapuram in Chennai where I have both my school and house. School days were fun, I was not a studious one but always managed to get good scores in my finals. Last minute study was my mantra and mastered the art through my school and college days. I completed B.E in Instrumentation with a distinction. I did my M.S.(in Elec. Engg) in University of Texas at Arlington with a scholarship. MBA is in pipeline later this year. The profile might suggest I am studious and really interested in studying – but last minute slogging has some how worked out well for me!

Me: That is interesting.. Can you talk about Karka Nirka.. When did you.. What is the story behind this..

PV: Karka Nirka was started on March 15,2008. I was trying my hand at blogging for while but it was so bad even my friends wouldn’t read my blogs. I had to work in a computer lab for 6 hrs, it would be really boring so I started reading Ponniyin Selvan translation. But the blog which had the translation had only 41 chapters. It was such a page turner that I decided to read the rest of the book in Tamil (except for few magazines never touched Tamil lit. before). The book was so good that I read 2000 more pages in Tamil. That was first exposure to Tamil. Then I decided to build on it, accidentally I got hold of book Smile of Murugan by Kamil Zvelebil. The author who is a Czech introduces Tamil to the world audience and he gives example of Tamil literature brilliance and tells the world why they have to read Tamil literature. Reading it I felt so ashamed that a person from Europe can love Tamil Literature so much and me being a Tamilian I have never even read the beautiful poems he has mentioned. So went to my University library and to my surprise there were translations of Sangam literature and Silapathikaram. What surprised me more was all these were literature on love and romance. To my knowledge I knew Tamil literature mostly was didactic or religious literature. Romance especially in Silapathikaram was surprise. So I decided to share the poems which pleasantly shocked me. I thought Blogging would be the right medium and this time it worked.

Me: Can you talk about how did you got interested in Sangam literature and decided to take the deep dive..

PV: My first introduction to Sangam Literature was essays on Sangam literature by Dr.Kamil Zvelebil in his books Smile of Murugan. Then I got to read translations of Sangam litertaure by A.K.Ramanujan and Dr. George Hart. What attracted me most was that the emotions potrayed in Sangam litrature are so universal. 2000 years later still lovers would go thorugh the same emotions. The poets have beautifully blended the nature around them with the emotions of characters to give unique poetry which would just melt your heart.

Me: Was it one of those late bloomers experience.. What made the tick?

PV: Very very late bloomer. I hated my Tamil lessons. I some what felt that Tamil non detail lessons were so boring and were always about rich people exploiting poor that it made me hate Tamil literature. I never had any liking for poetry too. Still I dont think I can appreciate most poetry. But some how these sangam poems caught my attention , I guess the human emotions just made me fall in love with it.

Me: What is the meaning of your website title.. How did you come up with this name..

PV: Actually I wanted to keep Katrathum petrathum – rip off from Sujatha’s famous title. But it was not available. Idea being Sangam poems are what i am learning now.. so want to share with u, so had to search for other titles. This one was long there in my mind because my vice principle in school whould often quote this kural ‘karka kasadara katravai katra pin nirka atharku thaga’.. He had very dep voice so always remembered this kural in his voice. So the words Kakra (learn) Nirka(stand by it) was on the similar line of what i was looking for. So that immediately became the title.

Me: Wow.. What is sangam literature all about.. (What are the interesting trends in Sangam period..

PV: Sangam literature is a big misnomer, lot of scholars have pointed this out. The name came up since it was belived that Madurai had a centralized acadmey for Tamil where each poem will be approved. Academy- sangam. So the literature was called Sangam literature. But historically if we see the sitatuion, we understand that Madurai could have had an academy but not a centralised one like it is potrayed to have. Poets were from all across Tamil nadu, kerala, karnataka, Andhra. Sangam Litertaure is basically court poetry. There were court poets and free lancers. Court poets enjoyed having a patron hence had more comfortable life and had better literary outputs. Most famous poets of Sangam like Kapilar, Auvaiyar, Paranar had patrons. Freelancers went to court of kings to sing their poverty/praise the king and get gifts.

We also see that the freelancer had complete democracy of choosing whom the want to praise and get gifts. This one poem where the poet feels the king hasn’t given enough and he goes to another kings sings in praise of him and gets a gift of an elephant (which is valued to be really high) and he goes and ties it in the sacred tree of the first king to show the king his worth. On the other hand Kapilar when his patron Pari died shifted his base to Malyanman country and became the court poet there. Same was case with Auvaiyar who shifted base after Adhiyman Anci died and went to the Chera court. We also see poets advising the kings on various issues and some poem even show poet and kings being really friendly and playing games.

There were three major kings and many small warlords and chieftains. The situation then is mostly comparable to the Samurai period in Japan – no major kingdom and always waging war. Most small kingdoms didnt have own source of water, so in periods where their water resources dries out they have to steal food from other kingdom or wage war. So it was necessity of the time. Only Cholas in the 10th century where able to solve the water problem with building of many tanks and channels. Sangam kings were always at war because that was a necessity not that they were barbarians.

Akam poems were either sung before the patron to entertain or used as indirect sex education for the people. Akam poem indirectly tells us what is proper love. Unlike later didactic literature these poems dont tells us the rules, rather it portrays emotions of the people involved to help us understand what is right and wrong.

Me: Very interesting.. What are we missing out on by not reading about sangam literature.. What is so special about it that it gets so much praise..

PV: First of all it is literature of a common man and not a literature on science and religion. If you look into any ancient literature of India they are either religious text or Sutras on a subject. Sangam Literature differs from all these literature since they just potray the emotions of common people.

Sangam literature can be spilt into two parts namely Akam and Puram. Akam deals with love and Puram deals with any other subject like war, heroism, kings, beneficence, poets, poverty, poets advise to king on various subjects etc.
Akam poems cannot contain any personal names or references since it dealt with emotions and personal life.

What really interested me in Sangam poems were that the emotions potrayed in those poems are exactly the same emotions experienced by people in love even today. We may have changed us and our evnivroment rapidly in the 2000 years, but our basic emotions have been the same.

Sangam poetry is a treasure house of description of nature, flora and fauna. The poets have by then, mastered the use of similes and visual imagery. They have beautifully blended the environment around them with the emotions of the people in love. These poems have to be experienced. The experience is such a beautiful one which I am enjoying for last three years.

Me: Can you suggest some books to pursue sangam literature..

PV: Smile of Murugan by kamil Zvelebil would be a great starter. Interior Landscape by A.K.Ramanujan is a very easily available classic translation of Kurunthokai.. Sips from Sangam cup is excellent starter from Sangam poems
Literary conventions on Akam poetry by Kamil Zvelebil is an excellent read on Akam poetry.

For more books you can check this post from my blog – http://karkanirka.org/books-you-should-read/

Me: I find that a good number of books on this subject are written in english by western authors.. Why is that so?

PV: The truth is there are excellent research work by Tamil Scholars too, but early books were written in Tamil.

We have scholars like K.Kailasapathy, A.K.Ramanujan, K.Shivatambhi, A.V Subramaniyan, N.Subramaniyan, Raghava Iyengar, V.S.Rajam and many more literary giants. The western scholars had the need to introduce the language known only to few to many people across the world. So mostly all the basic introduction for Sangam poems are written by the western scholars, but for that reason we should never forget the contribution of native Tamil Scholars.

If there was no Damodra Pillai and Swaminathan Iyer we have no sangam literature (they literally roamed around every house to collect all Palmyra scripts and re discovered sangam literature and published them as books with commentary!)

Me: From sangam.. back to your website.. What are the inspirations for your post.. What kind of topics do you choose from a vast array of sangam literature..

PV: The truth is I have no recipe nor I am a cook. I just read poems/translations – if some thing holds my interest and blows me away I try to check for word by word meanings and try to understand the poem in its original language, it gives me more insight into the poem. Then all I got to do is try to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand and experience the same happiness I had while reading the poem. I experiment with different ways so that it becomes easier for the reader to understand. It started with detailed commentary , then pictures/illustrations and now it has ended up with graphic novel style presentation of poem. The idea is reader should understand the poem completely (which one usually misses just reading a translation). I should say the poem chooses me than me choosing a poem!

Me: What are your future plans? You also plan to do an MBA.. Can you speak about your personal plan and also plans for you website..

PV: I am going to do my MBA in Asian Institute of Mangement in Philippines from September this year. I want to come back to India for good (been in US for 5 years now). I see my blog growing into an organisation. I want to take Sangam literature to students. Sangam literature is lying in scholarly circle for too long. Its time we all understand Sangam literature is our cultural treasure. Its only literature in India which preserves the culture of pre-aryan/sanskritized India. It is an universal literature. I see it as crime that we people are not aware about our own cultural treasures. I want to take this to the students. Only when we catch them young they would have enough time to spread it to others. These students would be much more creative and dynamic and would take Sangam literature to more people. I want students to learn and write about Sangam and other good Tamil literature. I want Sangam litertaure to be inspiration for arts and movies. All these are running as Ideas in my mind. But I want to give them a very practical form and start of from the school I studied and try to inspire few students to read and write about Sangam Litertaure. This is one of the major reasons among others I want to shift base to India.

Me: Very interesting thoughts Vairam.. Anything else you would like to add..

PV: I really dont want to put some list of things to say why you have to read Sangam literature, give it a try I am very sure you would love it. Lot of people comment on my blog saying I have great Tamil Patru to write my blog. I usually disagree with that sentiment. If had come across poems as beautiful as Sangam Poems in Japanese language I would be writing my blog on Japanese litertaure rather than Tamil Literature. Sangam literature is a very beautiful literature read it just for its beauty…

Me: Thank you Vairam for your time.. On behalf of the readers of Coffee With Sundar, I wish you good luck for your MBA.. and most importantly spreading of Sangam Literature..

Readers… Hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts.. Previous interview with Mr. Arvind Gupta – the toy maker – can be found here.

Dont forget to join the Facebook group for Coffee With Sundar here.




  • vj said:


    Great work both of you. It would help if Vairam would put a few links of his fav works – like the 100 flowers etc as well as samples – author picks


  • K.Nirmala said:

    I am so elited to see youngsters cherishing and loving tami.No way with u people around “Tamil ini mellachaagum”” tamil wil rule world I am sure

  • King Vishy said:

    Hey this is a surprise to see one of my friends interviewed by another!!! πŸ™‚

    @Sundar.. Vairam and I studied together from class 9 to 12..

    Appo Tamil class la irundha Vairam-a nenacha πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ He has truly come a long way from back then!

    @Vairam.. Machi, enakke ivlo naala ‘karka nirka’ meaning theriyaadhu da.. had got used to it, but didnt realize the origins!!