chapter  6
Dissolving One Paradox and Discovering Another: Pillan's Interpretation of Nammalvar's Poem
ByJohn B . Carman (Harvard Divinity School)
Pages 13

Trying to harmonize the truth conveyed in Tamil and Sanskrit is an evident concern of the commentator, but the harmony is one that is more assumed than argued. The commentator seriously intends to explicate the meaning of each Tamil verse. He does not have a general introduction to his commentary but gives a brief introduction to each set of verses and then a paraphrase of each verse in prose. He assumes that the poet is composing each verse to respond to a question of his audience. Thus the form of the paraphrase is frequently, "If it is asked . . . , the Elver replies . . . " This notion of question and answer comes from the "classroom" context of Sanskrit commentaries, but Pillan doubtless believed that Nammalvar, as an inspired teacher of Divine truth, would anticipate the questions of the disciples he was addressing. The fact that the poetry is dramatic or even lyrical does not prevent the commentator from interpreting it as didactic, like much Sanskrit poetry, beginning with the Vedic hymns themselves . Pillan clearly expected his paraphrase to supplement, not to replace, the recitation of the verses in home and temple. It is the recited poetry itself that is considered to have revelatory significance and salvific power. The commentary is enlightened and empowered by that poetry and therefore intends to be as faithful to its meaning as possible.