The Tamil concept of Love, Love Making and Divinity

One year of reading Tamil Literature and writing blogs. Sangam literature has inspired series of thoughts in me. I have to  thank Dr.Zvelebil for what ever I have gained in this year and would gain in the many more years that are to follow. He showed me the greatness of Tamil Literature. This essay is mainly indebted to two great scholars one Dr.Zvelebil and other being Dr. A.K.Ramanujan. Their books Literary convention of akam poetry and Hymns of Drowning respectively have inspired me in a big thought process. I thought it would be apt to put that thoughts into writing for the first anniversary of Karka Nirka blog.

I’m not sure if I will be able convey all the thoughts that run in my mind(on this topic), but at least I thought I would make an effort.

Sangam Literature is considered one of the greatest literature in the world. The love for Sangam poetry among Tamil poets are prevalent till this day. The Sangam concept of love and war has been utilised by various poets right from Illango, Kamban to Kannadasan and Vairamuthu.This essay tries to explore the poetical inspiration of Sangam concepts of love and love making in an unexpected quarter(at least for most of my blog readers).

The love poems of Sangam have made inroads into religion.  The two best examples one can give is that of Kambaramayanam and Kanthapuranam. The Murugan- Valli love episode of Kasiappasivachariyar’s Kanthapuranam is straight lift from a few Sangam love themes(it would take me a separate blog to point this out to the readers..hope I do a blog  on this topic soon!). In this essay I would like to go into Theme of Love making in Sangam literature and its parallel in Religious poetry and philosophy.

Love making and Religion …parallels? is it possible?  well you have to read through this essay,


The Tamil concept of love making is part and parcel of the concept of Love, unlike the present day where being in love is divine and love making is an act of Taboo. The early Tamilians didn’t differentiate between love and love making.

I sincerely wish not to use the term ‘sex’ in this essay since it can never mach the beauty of the word ‘Punarchi’.

“புணர்ச்சி puṇarcci , n. < id. 1. Combination; association, union; சேர்க்கை. (பிங்.) 2. Co-residence; ஒரு தேசத்தவரா யிருக்கை. புணர்ச்சி பழகுதல் வேண்டா (குறள், 785). 3. Coition; கலவி. (பிங்.) தகைமிக்க புணர்ச்சியார் (கலித். 118). 4. (Gram.) Coalescence of letters or words in canti; எழுத்து முதலியவற்றின் சந்தி. புணர்ச்சிவாயின் (தொல். எழுத். 142). 5. Connection of the different parts of a subject; முன்பின் தொடர்பு. (W.)”

The most apt word for punarchi in most senses would be love making or sexual union. I would prefer to use the term love making for Punarchi all through the essay. I would start the essay from the most loved poem and most renowned poem from Kurunthokai,

யாயும் ஞாயும் யார் ஆகியரோ?
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம் முறைக் கேளிர்?
யானும் நீயும் எவ் வழி அறிதும்?
செம் புலப் பெயல் நீர் போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாம் கலந்தனவே

What could be my mother be to yours?

what kin is my father to yours anyway?

And how did you and I meet ever?

But in love our hearts are as red

earth and pouring rain:

mingled beyond parting.

The Tamils viewed love making as an act of fertility. It was essential part of life. This is beautifully explained in the poem. The act of love making is beautifully compared to the act of pouring rain mingling with red earth. As the rain mingles with the red soil, it makes the soil fertile capable of making it to raise crops. The act of love making makes the female fertile. And another beautiful aspect we get to know from this poem is that act of love making is truly with consent of both the loving partners. It is not act to experience or it is not an act out of duty and it’s not an act out of compulsion. Two strangers whose heart has mingled are performing this act of love making.

The girl who is in her young teen risks everything while performing this act. The act done in secrecy is not known to her parents. She doesn’t know any back ground of the male partner. She has no guarantee that her lover would come back to take her after this act. If this act is known to people of her village they would grind her with their gossips. Simply her life is doomed if her lover deserts her after the act.

Practically in business terms it is a suicide to take this much of a risk. Then why does a girl give herself to the man she loves in the act of love making. Why is she giving the consent? Is it due to the rush in the blood to experience the unknown? This situation needs a deeper thought. The girl is too young who has no exposure or prior knowledge of anything . She doesn’t know what the act of love making is. But she gives herself in the act just for one sole reason. What is the reason? ‘Trust’. An absolute trust of her love and her lover. I would like to mention the word ‘Bakthi’ an unconditional love.

The girl has unconditional love and trust on her lover like a devotee who doesn’t know what is going to happen the next instant in this chaotic world but moves on every second of his life in a hope that the God would save him. An unconditional trust and hope on person called GOD whom no one has seen or even know whether he exists. But still the unconditional love and trust on the GOD makes every one happy and gives them hope even in the toughest of situations. The mindset of the girl is in same condition. The lover is her Lord. Only he can bless her with the life she dreamt/ hoped for. Her soul intermingled with his without any force or compulsion or act of duty.

Her instincts make her feel that Thalaivan is the god who can bless her the peace she wanted in life. Her lover is her lord from now. She asks no more questions and she surrenders herself to her lover like a helpless human who surrenders his soul to the Lord and trusts the Lord to take care of him. The girl’s involvement in the act is mere surrender to the soul she believes can give her peace. It is an unconditional love, which defies any sane logic. In a deeper angle, the girl transforms herself as the feast she is serving to her lord. She is ready to endure the pain to make her Lord enjoy the pleasure and after enduring the pain she relishes the pleasure of this process.  It is an act of sacrificing the self to appease the lord and being happy seeing the lord being appeased by her sacrifice.

I think I have gone deep enough on the concept of love making in Sangam poems to  understand the philosophy of Nammalvar’s poems.

The human soul which prays for the love from the lord(all humans) are the women in love and GOD is the Lord who grants the boon to this women in love. And how does he offer the ultimate experience which is given by the Male lover to the female partner?

By taking possession over the Human soul.

Most of the reader would have seen people who get possessed during the religious gatherings. The possessed seemed to get wild and out of control. But when you see Nammlavar’s poem you see a surprisingly different account of possession by the Lord ,

செங்சொற் கவிகாள். உயிர்காத்தாட் செய்மின் திருமா லிருஞ்சோலை வஞ்சக் கள்வன் மாமாயன் மாயக் கவியாய் வந்து என் நெஞ்சு முயிரு முள்கலந்து நின்றார் அறியா வண்ணம் என் நெஞ்சு முயிரும் அவைடுண்டு தானே யாகி நிறைந்தானே. (2) 10.7.1


beware,your life is in danger;

the lord of gardens is a thief

a cheat,

master of illusions;

he came to me,

a wizard with words,

sneaked into my body,

my breath,

with bystanders looking on

but seeing nothing,

he consumed me life and limb,

and filled me over into himself” 10.7.1

வானே தருவா னெனக்காயென் னோடொட்டி ஊனேய் குரம்பை யிதனுள் புகுந்து இன்று தானே தடுமாற்ற வினைகள் தவிர்த்தான் தேனே பொழில்தென் திருப்பேர் நகரானே.

“Promising me heaven,

making a pact with me,

today he entered this nest,

this thing of flesh,

himself cleared away

all obstacles

to himself all contrary acts,

our lord of the good city

of names,

whose groves are humming with bees.” 10.8.5

The act of possession is given whole new dimension by Nammalvar. An act of pain, wildness and which looks gross from outside becomes a divine experience for the poet.  For the poet it is an act where his soul unites with the lord. The sexual union of the sangam period transform here into a divine union where the GOD gives the divine experience of ecstasy to the loving soul the poet.

Lets go back to Sangam, for the Thalaivi, act of love making is the act of accepting her lover as partner for the rest of her life. Marriage is just an ritual preformed to satisfy others.She doesn’t wait to get approval of any one. She knows he is the one and only that matters to her and not the opinion and gossips of others. See this poem,

Kurunthokai 112.

கௌவை யஞ்சிற் காம மெய்க்கும்
எள்ளற விடினே யுள்ளது நாணே
பெருங்களிறு வாங்க முரிந்து நிலம் படாஅ
நாருடை யொசிய லற்றே
கண்டிசிற் றோழியவ ருண்டவென் னலனே.

” Look,friend,

fear of scandal will only thin out passion.

And if I should just give up my love

to end this dirty talk,

I will be left only with my shame.

My virgin self of which he partook is

now like a branch half broken

by an elephant,

bent,not yet fallen to ground,

still attached to the mother tree

by fiber of its bark.”

The lady in love is no more worried about what other feel about her. For she has been consumed by her lover. She would be an unworthy being without her lover. She has such confidence over her lover she dares any one who gossips about her.

The same feeling of the ultimate ecstasy and the boldness to reject the gossips of the world is expressed by Manikavasagar in his Thiruvasagam,

தப்பாமே தாம் பிடித்தது சலியாத்
தழலது கண்ட மெழுகு அது போலத் 60

தொழுது உளம் உருகி அழுது உடல்கம்பித்து
ஆடியும் அலறியும் பாடியும் பரவியும்
கொடிறும் பேதையும் கொண்டது விடாதென
படியே ஆகி நல் இடைஅறா அன்பின்
பசுமரத்து ஆணி அறைந்தால் போலக்
கசிவது பெருகிக் கடல் என மறுகி
அகம் குழைந்து அனுகுலமாய் மெய் விதிர்த்துச்
சகம் பேய் என்று தம்மைச் சிரிப்ப
நாண் அது ஒழிந்து நாடவர் பழித்துரை
பூண் அது ஆகக் கோணுதல் இன்றிச் 70

He grabbed me

lest I go astray.

Wax before an unspent fire,

mind melted,

body trembled.

I bowed,I wept,

danced,cried aloud,

I sang, and I praised him.

Unyielding,as they say,

as an elephant’s jaw

or a woman’s gasp

was love’s unrelenting seizure.

Love pierced me

like a nail driven

into a green tree.

Overflowing, I tossed

like a sea,

heart growing tender,

body shivering,

while the world called me Demon!

and laughed at me,

I left shame behind,

took as an ornament

the mockery of the local folk.

Unswerving, I lost my cleverness

in the bewilderment of ecstasy.” Thiruvasagam IV.59-70

This ecstasy is the ultimate experience a person can enjoy, though it is violent. The girl/human soul feels  more pain for each moment being away from the man who gave that pleasure. The girl is waiting to be consumed by her lover again. Being away form the pleasure is unbearable for the girl and she needs a permanent union with her Lord, this is explained by beautiful simile by Kapilar,

சிறு கோட்டுப் பெரும் பழம் தூங்கியாங்கு, இவள்
உயிர் தவச் சிறிது; காமமோ பெரிதே!”

She’s like those other trees on the slopes,

their giant jacks

hanging from slender boughs;

her breath is short,

and her love great beyond bearing.” kurunthokai 18

Like soul which prays for the GOD’s grace every moment, she waits for the grace of her lover while he is away. Like a person which visits temple and sees the face of the god and gets happiness out of it (though he wonders why god isn’t always with him), the girl feels happy just to see the place where he is,

குறுந்தாட் கூதளி யாடிய நெடுவரைப்
பெருந்தேன் கண்ட விருக்கை முடவன்
உட்கைச் சிறுகுடைஐ கோலிக் கீழிருந்து
சுட்டுபு நக்கி யாங்குக் காதலர்
நல்கார் நயவா ராயினும்
பல்காற் காண்டலு முள்ளத்துக் கினிதே.

“On the tall hill

where short stemmed night shade quivers,

a squatting cripple

sights a honey hive,


points to the honey,

cups his hand ,

and licks his fingers: so too ,

even if one’s lover

doesn’t love or care

it still feels good inside

just to see him now and then.’ Kurunthokai 60

I would like to go on to explain one more detail which is very important for this discussion. As I said before act of Love making for the lady love is act of accepting her man as the Lord of her life. From that instant he becomes her god and she would not worship any other god other than the Thalaivan. This known to us from tholkappiyam urai where Nachinnarkinyar says the Panki(friend of Thalaivi ) asks the Thalaivi to worship the moon. If the Thalaivai refuses to worship the moon it means she has already given herself to the Thalaivan since according to indigenous Tamil traditions a girl shouldn’t worship any other god other than her husband. This tradition can be seen even in Silapadiagaram.

When Devandi a Brahmin women advises she pray a diety so that nothing disasterous will happen to Kovalan, Kannagi refuses it saying she can’t think of worshiping any other diety other than her husband.

“தேவந்தி கூறிய தேறுதல் உரை”

பொன்-தொடீஇ! கைத்தாயும் அல்லை; கணவற்கு ஒரு நோன்பு
பொய்த்தாய் பழம் பிறப்பில்; போய்க் கெடுக! உய்த்துக்
கடலொடு காவிரி சென்று அலைக்கும் முன்றில்,
மடல் அவிழ் நெய்தல் அம் கானல், தடம் உள,
சோம குண்டம், சூரிய குண்டம், துறை மூழ்கி,
காமவேள் கோட்டம் தொழுதார், கணவரொடு
தாம் இன்புறுவர் உலகத்து, தையலார்;
போகம் செய் பூமியினும் போய்ப் பிறப்பர்; யாம் ஒரு நாள்
ஆடுதும்’ என்ற அணி-இழைக்கு-அவ் ஆய்-இழையாள்,

“கண்ணகியின் மறுமொழி”

‘பீடு அன்று’ என இருந்தபின்னரே-
“Woman with gold anklets! your husband did not reject you. All this is the result of a vow that remained unfulfilled in the past existence. To counteract the curse that vow has brought upon you, you should visit the sacred site where the kaveri flows into the sea. Near a few neydals in blossom there are two ponds, dedicated to the sun and moon. women who bathe in these ponds and then worship the god of Love in his temples shall spend all their lives close to their husbands and later enjoy the pleasures of Paradise. So let us go bathe there today.”

Kannaki at once answered the well-meaning woman ” This plan is not proper:[married woman should worship no other deity than her husband].”

I went on detail in this concept  since I wanted to point out effect of this custom on religion even today. Some Vaishnavites still don’t worship any other god other than Vishnu. I asked one of my friends what was the reason. He went on to explain they considered themselves  to be a female human soul who were married to the lord Vishu. Hence they could worship only Lord Vishnu though they respect all other gods.

Through this essay I have tried to open up the idea of influence of love making themes of Sangam literature on the Bakthi literature. I have not come across any book which covers this aspect in detail. I would like to explore further on this idea but  due to lack of available materials with me, I couldn’t go much further into this topic. The ideas here are open to discussion suggestions and corrections are welcome.


All translations except for Silapadikaram by Dr.A.K.Ramanujan

Silapadikaram translation by Alian Danielou



Literary conventions of Akam poetry by Dr.Kamil Zvelebil

Hymns of Drowning by Dr.A.K.Ramanujan

Interior landscape by Dr.A.K.Ramanujan

Poems on Love and war by Dr.A.K.Ramanujan

The Ankle Bracelet by Alian Danielou

Home life among the Tamils in the Sangam Age by K.Gnanambal



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  1. Bravely started.

    The passion that one feels while pursuing the two pursuits are – lets say life’s diff phases. the first emotion described is more amongst young adolescent youth, whereas the other is for a kindered spirit. The satiation of physical senses of the first act is quite different from the total submission of the second. though the expressions used might be common, the total surrender of a lady to her lover, is not in the same league as the surrender to the supreme. The first emotion is like an addiction when the body drives the soul, whereas the second is a realisation. Once that is reached lets take it this way

    முதல் அனுபவம் உன்னை மீண்டும் மீண்டும் பிறக்க தூண்டும்

    இரண்டாம் அனுபவமோ – பிறவா வரம் வேண்டும்.


  2. Excellent disciption of feelings! Can a feeling which is hidden inside a heart be brought out in words as such? It’s really great!

  3. I have to point out, the many literature which arrived after the sangam literature actually borrowed the source from sangam whether it is religious or other… Mr.Vairam had rightly rated this aspect.

    as far as the dedication to different aspect with age, it is devotion to loving that passion which lingers which brings peace is the goal not if it is achieved through religion or punarchi.

    Many people from many different religions or way of life are successful and peaceful ricky martin, elton john, Newton, kalam…….

  4. Although I know that the English script cannot exactly match the Tamil script in spelling the words alphabet by alphabet yet I wish you could write the original Tamil poem in English too for the people who do not know how to read Tamil script. This blog so informative and opens a whole new world and perspective of the Sangam Literature and values of life through the experiences of the people of the Sangam Age.

  5. Really nice blog to know about the ancient poems. Thanks for the share.

  6. is der anything related to homosex in ancient tamil literature…. if yes could u pls update it????


  8. Excellent work. Well narrated and from start to end no deviation. Keep on writing, waiting to read your works.

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