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Ettuthokai(Tamil: எட்டுத்தொகை)– 'The Eight Anthologies' - Classical Tamil poetic work - form part of the Pathinenmaelkanakku anthology series of the Sangam Literature. Ettuthokai and its companion anthology Pattupattu are some of the oldest available Tamil Literature and dated to belong to between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

Contents of the Anthology

Ettutokai consist of 2,371 poems varying from small stanzas of three lines in Ainkurnuru to stanzas of forty lines in Purananuru. The following poems form the Eight Anthologies:

The following Tamil poetry by an anonymous author lists the component parts of this Anthology:

நற்றிணை நல்ல குறுந்தொகை ஐங்குறுநூறு
ஒத்த பதிற்றுப்பத்து ஓங்கு பரிபாடல்
கற்றறிந்தார் ஏத்தும் கலியோடு அகம்புறம்
என்று இத்திறத்த எட்டுத் தொகை.

The ancient Tamil lyrical poetry compiled in The Eight Anthologies is unique and vigorous, full of vivid realism.


There are 470 poets known either by their proper names or by causal names deduced from their works. The authors are unidentified in the case of a hundred stanzas. The poets belonged to different parts of Tamil Nadu and to different professions.

Some of them were very popular like Kapilar, Nakkirar and Auvaiyar and some others are rarely remembered by their names. Yet a general harmony prevails throughout these eight anthologies. The tone and temper of the age is reflected in all their poems with a singular likeness. They were moulded according to certain literary conventions or traditions that prevailed in the Sangam age. Yet they reveal the individual genius of the poets who sang them.

Composition style

In those early days of Sangam Literature, the convention of the later days, that Tamil poetry should only deal with the four aspects of life, namely, virtue (அறம் - aram), material (wealth and politics) (பொருள் - porul), joy (love and pleasure) (இன்பம் - inpam), and salvation (including death) (வீச்சு: veechu), was not prevalent. The poets sang either of subjective (Akam) or objective (Puram) matters. Akam dealt with ideal love and Puram with the rest, such as war, munificence, etc.

குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று

கவவுக் கடுங்குரையள் காமர் வனப்பினள்
குவவுமென் முலையள் கொடிக்கூந் தலளே
யாங்குமறந் தமைகோ யானே ஞாங்கர்க்
கடுஞ்சுரை நல்லா னடுங்குதலைக் குழவி
தாய்காண் விருப்பி னன்ன
சாஅய்நோக் கினளே மாஅ யோளே.

-சிறைக்குடியாந்தையார். (குறுந்தொகை - 132)

What he said to his friend:

A girl of dark complexion is she
Ever ready to embrace,
desirable in beauty,
with delicately bulging breasts
and long flowing hair!
How can I forget her and be at rest?
In her look is such longing
as in the look of a new-born tender calf
that longs to see its mother whose udders are ready to flow!
- Siraikkudiaannthaiaar. (Kuruntokai - 132)

These poems artistically describe the sun, the moon and the nature. They however do not describe the nature for its own sake, rather they are utilised as containers of various aspects of human life. Nature provides the rich background for human emotions.

The poets of Ettutokai believed in the unique effects of a few deft touches of description, not in the elaborate and full descriptions of all the parts of a beautiful object or scene. They preferred to directly describe an object with a few vivid words just enough to communicate the emotions associated with the physical object. In this they can be compared with the Japanese Haiku poetic style.

The poems of Ettutokai are composed using a number of meters unique to Tamil poetry.

Akaval Meter

Of the eight anthologies five are on Akam, two on Puram, and one on both. Six of them are in 'akaval' metre which is a kind of verse, interspersed with alliterations and rhymes. The poems on Akam as well as Puram theme are written in this metre and its regulated and subtle music adds to the poetic beauty. This metre is a simple but wonderful instrument, which causes no impediment to the freedom of expression of the poet. It has been found to be an appropriate and natural medium for the expression of the valuable experience of the poets.

Kali Meters

The other two anthologies that are not written in akaval metre are Kaliththokai and Paripaatal. The poems of Kalittokai are in Kali metre which is known for its dramatic and lyrical qualities and which, according to Tolkappiyam is well suited to express the emotions of the lovers. There is repetition of certain lines and phrases and this, added to the haunting music of the metre, is very appealing.

Paripaatal Meter

Paripaatal is a metre full of rhythm and music and the anthology known by this name consists of songs composed in this metre. There are religious poems as well as those on love-themes. The love-theme is worked against the background of bathing festivities. These songs were sung in different tunes as is evident from the notes on the music at the end of these. The names of the musicians who set tunes to these songs are also mentioned therein.

Religion in Ettuthokai

In general the poets of the ancient Sangam period were not overtly religious. They were content writing in praise of their patron the king or about the idealised man and his paramour. But Paripaatal is a notable exception. This is a collection of poems, which are set to music and written about Thirumaal, Murugan and the river Vaigai. This must be the earliest Tamil religious work known to us.