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In scholarly networks, commentaries were an essential means of elucidating, supplementing, and interpreting bodies of textualised knowledge. In the Indian subcontinent a commented text will often be in verse, whether it be fictional or non-fictional, while the commentary will mostly be in prose and obey a certain set of conventions as elaborate as the ones that applied to the root text. From the premodern period until well into colonial times the commentary served as the primary space where intellectual communities have negotiated the expansion of the borderlines of accepted knowledge, where old and new hypotheses were tested and where information was put into order(s). When in manuscript form, such a document is amplified by often very considerable amounts of paratextual material, not only invocations and prefaces (such as to some degree have filtered down into modern editions), but also colophons, collections of glosses, synopses and additional stanzas that embed the text in a cultural context and give an idea of the ways it may have been transmitted.

In a continuation of the work begun in 2003 by the Caṅkam project the core research work will comprise four fronts – two literary, one theoretical and one devotional – for which the material is highly promising and where a number of scholars are already engaged. The team will examine the two most ancient poetic traditions, that of the Caṅkam, closely followed in time, though less so in form and spirit, by the Eighteen Minor Classics (Patiṉeṉkīḻkkaṇakku). These two constitute the main body of literature (Ilakkiyam) which the primary theoretical tradition, that of grammar and poetics (Ilakkaṇam), draws upon and elucidates. A little bit farther apart stands the canonical corpus of the Tamil Vaiṣṇavas, the “Divine Composition” (Tivyappirapantam), almost as ancient as the Minor Classics. It still largely follows Caṅkam conventions, but it is almost totally ignored by scholars of grammar. Instead it has allied itself with one of the great trans-regional Sanskrit scholastic traditions, that of Vaiṣṇava non-dualist theology. The following diagram illustrates the interrelation of traditions, all of which can be visualised as forming an open continuum with local and regional discourses (Tamil) on one end, and Pan-South-Asian discourses (Sanskrit) on the other:

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