A classified collection of Tamil proverbs - PDF by Herman Jensen

A classified collection of Tamil proverbs 

A classified collection of Tamil proverbs

From the introduction:

About twenty years ago, when I got Percival's collection of Tamil proverbs into my hands, I had only been a short time in India and had as yet got no insight into Indian thought and literature. I had read only a couple of small Tamil storybooks, but when reading these I had already perceived that the Indians could hardly tell a story without introducing some proverbs into it. 

My attention was thus at an early period of my life in India drawn to proverbs, and 1 began to study Percival's collection. I got, however, very little out of my study, as Percival had only given a translation of the Tamil proverbs, and had given no hints as to their meaning. So in those days I got no insight whatever into the real household proverbs but had almost to rest satisfied with the many aphorisms, of which we find large numbers in all our Tamil proverb collections. 

Yet, from what I had seen in the storybooks and in Percival's collection I had got an interest in these terse, blunt and poetic sayings; and year after year on getting deeper into the thought and life of India, and at the same time becoming acquainted with more and more of the proverbs, my interest in them steadily increased. And whenever I met with a new proverb either when talking with the people or reading Tamil books, 

I always looked for it in Percival's collection, and if he had not got it, I took a note of it; and at times I tried to have some of them explained by the common people. While I was thus leisurely prosecuting the study of Tamil proverbs, the Rev. J. Lazarus, b.a., began to prepare a " Dictionary of Tamil Proverbs." I looked forward to the publication of this book with very great interest, but when it appeared, I was somewhat disappointed with it, partly because Mr Lazarus had not given a translation of the proverbs and partly because his explanation of the proverbs seemed to me, from the insight I had got into the proverbs through years of study, not always to be the right one. 

But the book roused my interest afresh, and I took a Tamil munshi for about three years to go through all the proverbs I had found in other collections, and those I now found in Mr Lazarus's book, and also those I had collected myself. This study with my munshi together with the kind help I got from other Tamil people led me to a fuller understanding of Oriental proverbial literature, and after a couple of years of investigation, I got the idea of publishing a collection of these beautiful national sayings. 

But no sooner had I begun to realize the idea than I felt how much easier it was to get an idea than to carry it out. And hundreds of times, when going on with this work, have I felt the force of the Tamil proverb: " I stepped into the water without knowing its depth." When the idea of publishing a collection of Tamil proverbs occurred to me, I saw at once that I had great difficulties to face. I had the difficulty of two languages, both of which were foreign to me. I had the fear — and still have it — that it might be too much for a foreigner to venture on the publication of Tamil proverbs, as proverbs undoubtedly form the most difficult branch of a nation's literature to comprehend. 

Besides this, it was clear to me that if I were to publish Tamil proverbs, I could not adopt the usual alphabetical order, but would have to arrange them into groups. Another difficulty — and without comparison, the most important one — was to get the proper meaning of the proverbs, not as some pandits may please to explain them, but as common men and women understand them when they use them in their everyday life. 

Another difficulty, again, was to have these thousands of proverbs before I sifted. What was to be taken, and what to be left out? It always seemed to me that our collections of proverbs suffered from a great evil, viz., that they contained too many useless sayings, too many aphorisms and too many repetitions of the same proverbs. With these difficulties before me, I started, hoping that the proverb would prove true: " Little strokes, at last, fell great oaks," or as we say in Tamil: " Stroke upon stroke will make the oven a grindstone creep." When going into the study of Tamil proverbs one finds that little has been done in the way of making a scientific investigation of them. 

All proverbs, sayings and aphorisms we meet within our  Tamil proverb collections we generally call Tamil proverbs, but these two terms — Tamil and Proverbs — raise two great questions: Are they all Tamil originally, and are they all proverbs? When comparing the Tamil proverbs with the Telugu ones, we find a good number almost word for word the same. And I remember when once walking with a friend in the streets of Poona, that he quoted two Marathi proverbs, both of which we have literally in Tamil. At Bombay, I once happened to look into a Marathi proverb collection, and when I asked for a translation of the first proverb in the book I found it to be ours: " 

The dancing girl, who could not dance, said that the hall was not big enough." But which is which in our Tamil proverb collections. They are all called Tamil. Again, is it right to insert in our collections of proverbs hundreds and hundreds of aphorisms, classical sayings {i^Qmn^l) and common sayings, when these only communicate truth in a general way, without making use of any sort of illustration? It seems to me that we should not allow " the confusion of proverbs with mere precepts or maxims destitute of proverbial significance and character " to go on. Each in its proper place. 

I have not left them out altogether but tried to insert only such as are common, and at the same time contain rare words or idiomatic phrases.

the book details :
  • Author: Herman Jensen
  • Publication date: 1897
  • Company: Madras: Methodist Episcopal Publ. House; London: Trübner

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