Ancient Tamil custom of cutting a dead baby with sword and Paradise after death


Yesterday I was watching clips of old Tamil movie ‘Sivagangai Cheemai’ a movie on Maradhu Pandiyars. This film was produced and written by Kannadasan. In the climax hanging scene he brings out of the most ancient Tamil traditions through a patriotic dialogue. I have uploaded that particular scene below,

The first thing to note here is the belief Tamil warriors that they would reach the Heaven after death if they die by sword in the war.This kind of belief seem to have existed in the Tamil Sangam era(1-3AD). I will quote some poems here which reflect this idea.

93
திண் பிணி முரசம் இழுமென முழங்கச்
சென்று, அமர் கடத்தல் யாவது? வந்தோர்
தார் தாங்குதலும் ஆற்றார், வெடிபட்டு,
ஓடல் மரீஇய பீடு இல் மன்னர்
நோய்ப்பால் விளிந்த யாக்கை தழீஇ,
காதல் மறந்து, அவர் தீது மருங்கு அறுமார்,
அறம் புரி கொள்கை நான்மறை முதல்வர்
திறம் புரி பசும் புல் பரப்பினர் கிடப்பி,
‘மறம் கந்தாக நல் அமர் வீழ்ந்த
நீள் கழல் மறவர் செல்வுழிச் செல்க!’ என
வாள் போழ்ந்து அடக்கலும் உய்ந்தனர் மாதோ
வரி ஞிமிறு ஆர்க்கும் வாய் புகு கடாஅத்து
அண்ணல் யானை அடு களத்து ஒழிய,
அருஞ் சமம் ததைய நூறி, நீ,
பெருந் தகை! விழுப் புண் பட்ட மாறே.

திணை வாகை; துறை அரச வாகை.
அவன் பொருது புண்பட்டு நின்றோனை அவர் பாடியது.

Purananuru 93

Who is left to defeat in battle
advancing as the strong-thronged drum roars out?
Those who came could not prevail before your vanguard,
but scattered and ran.
The mean kings there died
and escaped the rite
that would have rid them of their infamy:
when they had died in bed,
their bodies would have been taken,
and, all love for them forgotten,
to purge them of their evil.
Brahmins of the four Vedas and just principles
would have laid them out on green grass
prepared according to ritual,
would have said,
“Go to where warriors with renowned anklets go
who have died in battle
with manliness their support,”
and would have cut them
with the sword,
They died there,great one,
while you received a fine wound
as you attacked, making battle scatter
and bringing down on the field of killing
elephants whose rut hammed with striped bees
as it trickled into their mouth.

Auvaiyar sings of Atiyaman Netuman Anci when he fought and received a wound.

Translated by George L Hart

As the above poem mentions, the ancient Tamils believed that a person who died in a battle would go to a heavenly world. So every king preferred to die fighting in a battle. The kings who died naturally or due to sickness were cut by swords before they were cremated. This is because the Kings have fought enough battles to get this honor. It was a honor to die by sword. A warrior attains his salvation when killed in a battle.

74
குழவி இறப்பினும், ஊன்தடி பிறப்பினும்,
‘ஆள் அன்று’ என்று வாளின் தப்பார்;
தொடர்ப் படு ஞமலியின் இடர்ப்படுத்து இரீஇய
கேள் அல் கேளிர் வேளாண் சிறு பதம்,
மதுகை இன்றி, வயிற்றுத் தீத் தணிய,
தாம் இரந்து உண்ணும் அளவை
ஈன்மரோ, இவ் உலகத்தானே?
திணை பொதுவியல்; துறை முதுமொழிக் காஞ்சி.

சேரமான் கணைக்கால் இரும்பொறை சோழன் செங்கணானோடு திருப்போர்ப் புறத்துப் பொருது, பற்றுக் கோட்பட்டு, குடவாயில் கோட்டத்துச் சிறையில் கிடந்து, ‘தண்ணீர் தா’ என்று பெறாது, பெயர்த்துப் பெற்று, கைக் கொண்டிருந்து
உண்ணான் சொல்லித் துஞ்சிய பாட்டு.

Purananuru 74

If a child of my clan should die,
if it is born dead,
a mere glob of flesh
not yet human,
they will put it to the sword
to give the thing
a warrior’s death.

Will such kings
bring a son this world
to be kept now
like a dog at the end of a chain
who must beg,
because of fire in the belly,
for a drop of water
and lap up a beggar’s drink
brought by jailers,
friends who are not friends?

Ceramaan Kanaikkal Irumporai fought with Colan Cerikanan on the field of Tirupporppuram, was captured,imprisons at Kutavayir Kottam (fortress),asked ” Give me water”, did not get it, then [When he asked again] did get it, kept it in his hand without drinking, and died. This is his song as he died. (colophon from Purananuru by George Hart and Hank Heifetz)

Translated by  A.K.Ramanujan

As the above poem says the children who are born dead or die as an infant were cut by sword and given a warrior’s death. Though this might look like an act of barbarism to many but according to the Ancient Tamils they didn’t want to deny the child of the heavenly world that a warrior who was killed in the battle goes to. The child never had a chance to prove its valor and hence they performed this ritual even on the infants.

People who have fame spreading through out this world need no ceremony like this since they have already booked a place in the heavenly paradise. Another point that should be noted here is that memorial stones in honor of warriors who died in battle were also laid. This Hero stone(natukkal) was considered to have certain powers and hence people worshiped these hero stones. According to George L. Hart, some ritualistic attributes of the Natukkal was later passed on to the Linga worship of southern Hinduism.

hero Stone - Natukkal
hero Stone - Natukkal

Kannadasan who is well versed in Sangam Literature brings it out in this dialogue. In one of my earlier post I have written about another venture of Kannadasan ‘ Manathi Mannan’ a MGR film which was based on set of poems and a legend from the Sangam Literature.

 

Thanks to VJ and other Ponniyinselvan members for informing me about the Iruvar clip, 

And Vairamuthu has also included one of the most famous Sangam poems in Narumugaye song in this movie. Please visit my ‘Red earth and puring rain’ blog for the poem and the movie clip.

————————————————————————————————

Reference:

Poems of Ancient Tamils – George L Hart

Poems on War and Love – A.K.Ramanujan

Purananuru – George L Hart and Hank Heifetz

Poets of the Tamil Anthologies – George L Hart

———————————————————————————————–

Please post your comments.

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9 thoughts on “Ancient Tamil custom of cutting a dead baby with sword and Paradise after death

Add yours

  1. Very well done vairam. There is also a lengthy dialogue in the film Iruvar – where the practise of putting a still born to the sword before burying it is recited.

    vj

  2. To read this poem was really great sir. I’ve heard that the ritual of piercing the ear of new born babies(both male or a female) for putting ear rings also reflects the same idea of making the child brave so that it can accept any pain later.I don’t know how far it is true. But there have been so many rituals for children and for showing them that they come from a brave community(eg:- the AIMPADAI THALI celebrations). It’ll be really interesting to know them all

  3. “According to George L. Hart, some ritualistic attributes of the Natukkal was later passed on to the Linga worship of southern Hinduism”. The sentence which was given above..i am a bit worried about this. The linga concept is itself having a great origin and many explanations by scholars, saints, adiyaars and great siddhars. And it is also told “Thennadudaiya Sivanney Potri”

    I am worried to see wby is the concept of natukkal and siva lingam worship is linked here. Kindly help me understand if I am wrongly understood.

    Regards
    Madhan

  4. @Madhan
    There are various issues to be understood here…
    1. Vedic Hinduism was prevalent during Sangam period but was not the most popular religion. Jainism and Bhuddism was also prevalent along with Ingenious religion of the Tamils with Village gods.
    2. There are poems in Sangam literature to show this difference… the Tamils followed a code called Maram and the Brahmins and Vedic religion followed a code called Aram. Please read my Rama vs Ravana Blog.
    3.I am not saying that Natukkal got transformed as Lingam worship, rather I have said some rituals which were performed on the Natukkal was later transferred to Lingam worship also.
    4. Though there are some references about Shiva and Parvathi in Sangam literature (the old ones) the most popular god of Sangam age seems to be Murugan who has different attributes than the present Subramaniya- Muruga. Please see my Murugan – Aryan or Dravidian Deity blog.
    5. Hinduism didn’t grow in Isolation. It is amalgamation of various faiths and practices. Some practices of the hero worship has also got into Hinduism.
    6. The basic philosophy of Bakthi literature itself is inspired from Sangam akam poems. This is indicated by Dr.Kannan in his guest blog.
    7. Thennattudaya Sivane potri is poem in Thiruvasagam which was written at least 400 years after the Sangam Literature was written.
    regards,
    Vairam

  5. Thats Really great of you for taking time and clarifying things to me. You have specified Thiruvasagam is written 400 years after sangam…though I feel that the words of Adiyaars like Manickavaasagar are words of Shiva itself, we have the difference in discussing the subject.My doubt is that Agathiyar comes in all the Era of the Thamizh literature and there is a belief that he is sent by sivam.

    If we are talking about the different forms and its origins then yes you are perfectly right. Otherwise who can exactly say about the Murugan form and any other form. But I should comment this..this blog is greatly useful to widen the knowledge. Thanks.

  6. I am not commenting here about the words of manikavasagar, rather Time period and environment. During Manikavasagar period Vedic Hinduism (Shaiva and Vaishanava) had become the most popular religion unlike the Sangam Age.

    My style when writing about religion would usually be to analyze the events and causes for the events. My essays wont have any philosophical intent to it. My essay are basically a historical interpretation.

    Agathiyar is one of the most interesting characters in Tamil literature like Nakkirar and Auvaiyar. There are atleast minimum three Auvaiyars in Tamil Literature , some Tamil Literature experts go on to say there were as many as 17 Auvaiyars. Please see my How many Auvaiyars essay. I would soon try to post a essay on Agathiyar.

  7. If you see the Herostones of the later period to what you have shone above, we clearly see three or four panels on the Herostone. The bottom one or two are in relation to the actual incident of cause of death of the hero like war, cattle raid, protecting women and children etc. the upper two show the hero being carried by “Apsaras” and the top most shows hero worshiping the Lingam, at times the Nandi is also shown in squatting position.
    One of the reason why the linga worship is shown is,
    The general belief of Lord Shiva being the god of death.
    Could it be also Because of
    “some ritualistic attributes of the Natukkal was later passed on to the Linga worship”

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