The Sanskrit epic Mahabharata has influenced the Tamil culture for a long time and has been recurrently used in folk drama in Tamil Nadu. A number of poets with the name of Perumdevanar are accredited with the initial attempt of translating the Mahabharata in Tamil language, but the works are not available as they were unable to survive. During the 14th century, Villiputhurar, motivated by the chieftain Varapati Atkondan, composed a compact version of the epic. Ashtavadanam Arangantha Kavirayar also wrote around three thousand hymns on the Hindu epic. Eventually in the 18th century, Nalla Pillai composed his monumental version of the Mahabharata in Tamil consisting of eleven thousand verses.
It is widely believed that Nalla Pillai belonged to a family of village accountants and was considered as a child prodigy. By the age 21, he had initiated his work on the entire Bharatham in about eleven thousand hymns. This permitted another pupil of the language, Muruga Pillai, to compose a few verses as well. Nalla Pillai was an expert in the three languages of Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. He had the courteousness to convey his admiration for Bharatam composed by Villiputhurar, while his own composition of the same epic was much more comprehensive and incorporated various areas that were not recorded by his eminent predecessor. Nalla Pillai Paratam was an original literary work and he also included several details that were not by Vyasa and Villiputhurar.
Learning the epic Mahabharata and giving discourses on it became very popular in the Tamil country during the eighteenth century. As Bhartam by Villiputhurar was a concise work, many authors wished to elaborate on the work. The two poets, Nalla Pillai and Murukappa Upattiyayar, composed another ten thousand 400 hundred verses in addition to the four thousand three hundred verses composed by Villiputhurar. This brought out a much vivid and elaborate Tamil version of the Sanskrit epic. As most of the new work was written by the poet Nalla Pillai, the Tamil version of the Mahabharata was titled as the Nalla Pillai Paratam or Nallapillai Bharatham.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, discourses on the Bharatam are provided even now for 20 to 30 days. Nalla Pillai Paratam is utilised to describe various minor tales from the Mahabharata in such discourses. Nalla Pillai's Bharatam has also gained literary status in Tamil literature as it is similar in rhythm and style to the work of Villiputhurar.
(Last Updated on : 05-02-2013)
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