Pattinappaalai (Tamil: பட்டினப் பாலை, romanized: Paṭṭiṉap Pālai, meaning the city and the desert) is a Tamil poetic work in the Pathinenmaelkanakku anthology of Tamil literature, belonging to the Sangam period corresponding to between 100 BCE – 100 CE. Pattinappaalai is part of the Pattupattu collection, which is the oldest available collection of long poems in Tamil literature. Pattinappaalai contains 301 lines of poetry in the akaval meter. Pattinappaalai was written by the poet Uruttiragannanar in praise of the Chola king Karikala. Pattinappaalai poems belong to the Akam, or subjective themes of love and human relationships and utilises the location of the story to sing praises of the ruler.
Pattinappaalai contains vivid descriptions of the ancient Chola capital of Kaveripattinam (Puhar), which was located at the mouth of the river Kaveri. Food from Eelam is imported to the Chola country at the port. The flourishing sea-trade and the antics of Yavanas, the merchants from ancient Greece and Rome, their living quarters, etc. are colourfully described by the poet. The realistic nature of these descriptions makes us wonder whether these to be eyewitness accounts rather than an imaginary account of a poet. It gives details about the goods that were imported and exported from the Puhar port, the professions which flourished in the port. Pattinappalai also gives an idealised description of the merchants plying their trade in Puhar (Pattinappaalai – II –199-212):
- They shunned murder, and put aside theft, pleased the gods by fire offerings,they regarded others rights as scrupulously as their own, they took nothing more than was due to them and never gave less than was due from them. Trading thus in many articles of merchandise, they enjoyed an ancient heritage of prosperity and lived in close proximity to one another.
The story in Pattinappaalai is about the hero who has to travel away from Puhar in order to earn his livelihood. But he is hesitant, as he knows that his lover will be forlorn in his absence. Pattinappaalai is the soliloquy of the hero in which he addresses himself: "O heart! I will not leave the prosperous Puhar to go abroad looking for wealth. The way in which one needs to travel is a paalai land (wasteland). It is as treacherous as Karikala's sword. My lover is tender hearted as Karikala's reign. I will never leave my dear lover".
This, the entire story of Pattinappaalai forms a mere six lines of poetry. The rest of the poem is devoted to the description of Puhar and of Karikala's might and valour.