BnF INDIEN 478: Cāmināta Piḷḷai’s Nacaraikkalampakam

A blogpost by Margherita Trento

The source of all the pictures of INDIEN 478 is BnF

Indien 478 (ex-Tamoul 478) is a palm-leaf bundle (440 x 25 mm) between wooden planks containing the manuscripts of two poems, the Nacaraikkalampakam by Vittuvāṉ Cāmināta Piḷḷai (unfoliated f.1A, f.2A, and 57 ff.), and the Caṟuvēcuraṉ catakam (also spelled Caṟuvvīcuraṉ catakam) by a certain Ñāṉappirakācam (unfoliated f.1B, f.2B, and 26 ff.) (Cabaton 1912, p. 68). The first unfoliated folio in the bundle functions as title-folio for the whole composite manuscript (CM), and bears the title of both works (Fig. 1). Unfoliated f.1A (Fig. 2) and unfoliated f.1B are the title-folia of the Nacaraikkalampakam and the Caṟuvēcuraṉ catakam respectively.

Fig. 1 —  The wooden cover and unfoliated folio 1, that is, the title-folio — Courtesy of BnF

Fig. 2 — Detail, title-page of the Nacaraikkalampakam, unfoliated folio 1A, column 1 — Courtesy of BnF

The bundle bears neither colophon nor internal date, but we have some clues as to the decades when it was copied. The terminus ante quem is 1855, since this was part of Edouard Ariel’s donation made in that year to the Société Asiatique in Paris (Rosny 1869). The terminus post quem, at least for the first text, is the lifetime of Vittuvāṉ Cāmināta Piḷḷai, the author of the Nacaraikkalampakam. The title of “Vittuvāṉ” is attributed to him by Simon Casie Chitty in his biographical sketch (1859, pp. 114–115). The precise dates of birth and death of this pulavar are unknown, but he lived in Madras at the turn of the nineteenth century; from 1796 onwards, he was the Tamil teacher of British administrator and orientalist Francis Whyte Ellis (1777–1819) (see again Chitty 1859, pp. 114–115; Muttucāmipiḷḷai 1840, p. 4; Blackburn 2003, pp. 99–100).

The presence of the Nacaraikkalampakam within Ariel’s collection points to the important role of Cāmināta Piḷḷai at the turn of the century, to which we will return. For now, let us look more closely at the manuscript of this text. As already mentioned, unfoliated folio 1A seems to be the original title-folio of the Nacaraikkalampakam. It bears on the left margin the title, engraved and blackened with ink. This folio was likely re-used as a cover for a larger bundle containing multiple works, whose titles have been engraved (but not blackened) by a different hand around the original one. They are: Nacaraikkalampakam (c.1) (see Fig. 2 above); Caṟuvīcuraṉ catakam (c.2); Tirukkāvalūr kalampakam (c.3) (see Fig. 3); and two further lines in c. 4 which are mostly unclear to me: cukuṟtakuṟaḷ [read: cukirtakuṟaḷ] cīruṟuta viṭāmata māṉipa vāṭāta. The latter might be an invocation rather than a title (see Fig. 4).

Fig. 3 – Detail, title-page of the Nacaraikkalampakam, unfoliated folio 1A, column 2 — Courtesy of BnF

Fig. 4 – Detail, title-page of the Nacaraikkalampakam, unfoliated folio 1A, column 3 — Courtesy of BnF

Based on these various titles engraved on unfoliated f.1A, I hypothesize that this manuscript was once part of a larger bundle including, besides the Nacaraikkalampakam and the Caṟuvēcuraṉ catakam, a copy of Jesuit missionary Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1680-1747)’s Tirukkāvalūr kalampakam — whose title we find engraved on unfoliated f.1A, and which was the immediate model for Cāmināta Piḷḷai’s own text. Incidentally, the BnF holds a manuscript of the Tirukkāvalūr kalampakam, also from Ariel’s collection, whose call number (Indien 477) is immediately preceding the call number of our manuscript.

Back to the manuscript, the verso of unfoliated f.1A contains writing in a different hand, unblackened, as (partially) visible in the following photographs (Figs. 5–6):

Fig. 5 — Detail, unfoliated folio 1A, verso, left margin — Courtesy of BnF

Fig. 6 — Detail, unfoliated folio 1A, verso — Courtesy of BnF

We see here on the left margin (Fig. 5) a note beginning with putuvai mānakar[…] but further illegible to me, certainly referring to a place (Putuvai = Pondicherry). Considering the different hand, the fact that this side of the folio is not blackened, and the mention of Pondicherry, this line might refer to the place (and perhaps the date?) of the bundling together of the texts for Ariel. Moreover, the main text on this side of the folio (Fig. 6) is a prefatory stanza which is the copy of an invocation stanza (kāppu) preceding the second text in the bundle, the Caṟuvvīcuraṉ catakam, on unfoliated folio 2B just before the beginning of that text (see Fig. 7 below).

Fig. 7 — Detail, unfoliated folio 2B — Courtesy of BnF

The stanza (unfoliated folio 2B recto)reads as follows:

(uf2Br1) சத்தியமெஞ்ஞான – சறுவேஸ்வரன்சதகம்
(uf2Br1) cattiya meṉṉāṉa – caṟuvēsvaraṉ catakam
(uf2Br2) பத்தியுடன்பாடிப்பணிவதற்கு – வித்தரையி
(uf2Br2) pattiyuṭaṉ pāṭip paṇivataṟku – vittaraiyil
(uf2Br2) லாரணத்தைக்காட்டமனு – வாகிதுயர்பூண்டிறந்தோன்
(uf2Br3) āraṇattaik kāṭṭa maṉu1 – vāki tuyar pūṇṭ’ iṟantōṉ
(uf2Br4) காரணமாம்பொற்சிலுவை – காப்பு
(uf2Br4) kāraṇamām poṟ ciluvai – kāppu

This is my tentative translation:

“May the golden cross (poṉ ciluvai) that is (ām) the instrument (kāraṇam) of the one [God] who died (iṟantōṉ) after becoming a man (maṉu āki) on this earth (ittaraiyil) to show (kāṭṭa) the sacred path (āraṇattai), and experiencing great suffering (tuyar pūṇṭu), protect (kāppu) [my] revering (paṇivataṟku) [him] by singing (pāṭi) with devotion (pattiyuṭaṉ) this hundred verses (catakam) on the God (caṟuvēsvaraṉ) of true wisdom (cattiya meṉṉāṉa).”

The title of the Caṟuvēsvaraṉ catakam is clearly mentioned in the first line of this stanza, which obviously belonged to that text. It seems likely that it was copied on unfoliated f.1Av at a later moment, perhaps when putting the two texts together for Ariel’s collection in Pondicherry; it might have been engraved on this folio as a sort of prefatory stanza for the whole bundle.

Besides, unfoliated f.2A contains another invocation stanza (kāppu veṇpā) originally belonging to the Nacaraikkalampakam, along with its commentary (Fig. 8). We now turn to this, and to some further reflections on this poem and his author.

Fig. 8 — Kāppu stanza, unfoliated folio 2Br — Courtesy of BnF

Unfoliated f.2Ar

(lm1) கடவுடுணை
(lm2) நசரைக்கலம்பகம்
(lm3) காப்பு


(f2Ar1) பொன்னுலகினின்னமுதைப் – பூவிற்பொழிந்தருளு – மின்னுலவுனன்னசரைவேந்தன்மேல் மன்னுங்
(f2Ar2) கலம்பகத்தைப் பாடிக்களிப்புறவி தேவன் கலம்பகனேர்தாளெனக்குக்காப்பு =
(f2Ar3) இதினுரை = வானுலகினியவமிர்தத்தைப் – பூவுலகத்திற்பொழியுமொளியுலாவியனன்னசரைக்கிறை
(f2Ar4) வன்மேனிலையாகுங்கலம்பகத்தைப்பாடிக்களிப்புண்டாகவிக்கடவுளினொளியாபரணத்துக்

Unfoliated f.2Av

(f2Av1) கிணையான – பாதமெனக்குகாப்பாமென்க

The following is an attempt at metrical rendering, word-split, and translation of this stanza (with the help of the 1925 edition of the text) along with a version of the commentary without sandhi:

பொன்னுலகி நின்னமுதைப் பூவிற் பொழிந்தருளு
மின்னுலவு நன்னசரை வேந்தன்மேல் – மன்னுங்
கலம்பகத்தைப் பாடிக் களிப்புறவித் தேவன்
கலம்பகனேர் தாளெனக்குக் காப்பு.

poṉṉ ulakiṉ iṉṉ amutaip pūviṟ poḻint’ aruḷum
miṉṉ ulavu naṉ ṉacarai vēntaṉ mēl – maṉṉuṅ
kalampakattaip pāṭik kaḷipp’ uṟavit tēvaṉ
kalampakaṉēr tāḷ eṉakkuk kāppu.

itiṉ urai – vāṉ ulaku iṉiya amirtattai pūvulakattiṉ poḻiyum oḷi ulāviya nal nacaraikku iṟaiaṉ mēl nilai ākum kalampakattai pāṭi kaḷippu uṇṭāka ikkaṭavuḷiṉ oḷi āparaṇattukku iṇaiyāṉa pātam eṉakku kāppām eṉka.

“While I sing (pāṭi) this string of songs (kalampakam) focusing (maṉṉuṅ) upon the king (vēntaṉ mēl) of good (nal) Nazareth (nacarai), where light (miṉ) spreads (ulavu) and sweet (iṉ) ambrosia (amutai) graciously (aruḷum) drips (poḻintu) from the heavens (poṉṉulakiṉ) into this world (pūviṟ), may the feet (tāḷ) of the lord (tēvaṉ) who is source of delight (kaḷippuṟavi) — [feet that are] like (nēr) the perfection (pakam) of jewelery (kalam) — protect (kāppu) me (eṉakku).”

After this invocation begins the text of the Nacaraikkalampakam, a title that we could translate as “A string of songs about Nazareth.” The kalampakam is an old genre later classified as ciṟṟilakkiyam, which usually contains 100 songs in many different meters linked by antāti, that is, the repetition of the last element of one song at the beginning of the next song (see Shulman 2004, p. 157). The Nacaraikkalampakam was written in praise of Nazareth, the birth-place of Jesus, and in praise of Jesus as the lord of that town. Besides the kāppu, it includes another long and articulated prefatory poem made up of different songs, a hundred songs, and one final praise verse (māṇākkaṉ pukaḻnt’ uraitta ceyyuḷ) which doesn’t appear to be numbered.

The work as it appears in this manuscript is accompanied by a commentary (see the transcription of unfoliated f.2Ar above), which at a first glance is close to the one printed in the 1925 edition. The poem was printed already in 1868, then again in 1885, and a third time in 1925 (Fig. 9); information on the early editions is found in the introduction to the 1925 edition, at a time when they had become extremely rare. The poem also circulated in several manuscript copies, including two paper manuscripts that I have seen in the Jesuit Archives of the Madurai Province inside Sacred Heart College in Shenbaganur (JEMPARC 222/261 and 222/263).

Fig. 9 — Title page of the 1925 edition — Book in the public domain

Chitty attributed the Nacaraikkalampakam to the early stages of Cāmināta Piḷḷai’s poetic activity (Chitty 1859, pp. 114–115), and also considered it of lesser value compared to the Ñāṉātirāyark kāppiyam, an epic poem Cāmināta wrote later in his career. This judgment might reflect a change in taste, and the fact that the kalampakam as a genre was not considered to be particularly worthy in a modern colonial context (for such changes introduced by colonial modernity, see Ebeling 2010). The situation was certainly different in the eighteenth century, when the genre was first adapted to convey Catholic ideas and poetics. As mentioned, Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi aka Vīramāmuṉivar composed the Tirukkāvalūr kalampakam, a kalampakam in honor of Mary as present in his residence at Ēlākkuṟicci. The Nacaraikkalampakam takes inspiration from this and other works by Beschi, as did a number of Catholic poets using the kalampakam genre after him (Amaladass 2018, pp. 9–10).

In conclusion, Cāmināta Piḷḷai was a Catholic pundit and poet originally from Pondicherry who settled in Madras at the turn of the nineteenth century and became Francis Whyte Ellis’ Tamil teacher. He might have been at the origin of Ellis’ extensive knowledge of Catholic — especially Beschi’s — literature, as shown in his ca. 1819 English translation and commentary of passages of the Tirukkuṟaḷ. Ellis also asked Cāmināta Piḷḷai to write a biography of Beschi, an endeavour that would eventually be accomplished by another Pondicherry Catholic who settled in Madras to work as Tamil pundit, Muttucāmi Piḷḷai (d. 1840). The presence of Cāmināta Piḷḷai in Madras at the turn of the century, and of Muttucāmi after him, shows the important contribution of Catholic pulavars to the study of Tamil language and literature in the Madras Presidency, in the context of what Thomas Trautmann has labelled “the Madras school of Orientalism” (2009). These men were integrated into the realm of Tamil literature in ways that need further exploration, but certainly included the writing of poems in traditional genres, such as Cāmināta Piḷḷai’s Nacaraikkalampakam.


Amaladass, Anand SJ, ed. (2018). Gift of the Virgin Conch-Shell. Tirukkāvalūr Kalampakam by Constantine Joseph Beschi S.J. Tiruchirappalli: Golden Net Computers.

Ellis, Francis Whyte (ca. 1819). On virtue [from the Kurral of Tiruvaḷḷuvar]. 304 quarto plates without title or date. Madras: College of Fort St. George. Copies are in the Indian Institute Library, Oxford, and OIOC.

Blackburn, Stuart (2003). Print, Folklore, and Nationalism in Colonial South India. Delhi: Permanent Black.

Cabaton, A. (1912). Catalogue sommaire des manuscrits Indiens, Indo-Chinois & Malayo-Polynésiens, Bibliothèque Nationale, Département des manuscrits. Paris: Leroux. [Indien 1–936 in print; this BnF library copy comprises handwritten descriptions up to Indien 1064]

Chitty, Simon Casie (1859). The Tamil Plutarch, containing a Summary Account of the Lives of the Poets and Poetesses of Southern India and Ceylon. Jaffna: Ripley & Strong printers.

Ebeling, Sascha (2010). Colonizing the Realm of Words: The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Muttucāmi Piḷḷai, A. [aka Muttusami Pillei] (1840). Brief Sketch of the Life and Writings of Father C.J. Beschi or Vira-mamuni, translated from the original Tamil. Madras: J.B. Pharoah.

de Rosny, Léon (1866). ‘La bibliothèque Tamoule de M. Ariel de Pondichéry.’ In: Variétés orientales historiques, géographiques, scientifiques, biographiques et littéraires (pp. 177–224). Paris: Maisonneuve.

Shulman, David Dean (2004). “Notes on Tillaikalampakam.” In South-Indian Horizons. Felicitation volume for François Gros on the occasion of his 70th birthday, edited by Jean-Luc Chevillard and Eva Wilden, 157-176. Pondicherry: IFP/EFEO.

  1. Here the unfoliated f.1Av reads kāṭṭiṉu. []

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