Poetic Hyperbole in Ancient Tamilakam


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The poet, Kapilar of Vel Pari legend, like all poets of his era, was given to exaggerations. Sometimes the superlatives reached ridiculous lengths—literally.

He once sang in praise of a Cheran king thus:

Perhaps there is some nuance here that I’m missing. But as it stands, the poet described a chimpanzee. Then again, some experts claim that an adult male chimpanzee is seven times stronger than the strongest man. I suppose this makes the poem a compliment of sorts.

But for my purposes—researching to write historical novels set in ancient South India—extant writings such as this, which are the only records historians have to work with, provides obstacles but also opportunities.

Obstacles, because one cannot take the claims as literal truth. Even experts encounter difficulty deciphering the nuances. Opportunities, because one has leeway to be creative.