Multi Layer poem- She troubles me – Kurunthokai 119


Become Fan of Karka Nirka Blog in Facebook


This is one of my very old blogs. But when I researched through it once again I was in shock. This poem’s imagery would never be properly documented. One word of hint on this poems imagery was given by Kamil Zvelebil in his Smile of Murugan. With that clue as starting point when I went though searching for the actual meaning of the imagery , it was pretty startling. Readers who saw my visual explanation last time, don’t expect it this time. This post would have some mature only content, so people who are not prepared for it please quit. I am going on to publish this not for any traffic or sensationalism but for sole reason the imagery has never been properly documented(except for the hint given by Dr.Zvelebil).

119. குறிஞ்சி
சிறு வெள் அரவின் அவ் வரிக் குருளை
கான யானை அணங்கியா அங்கு-
இளையள், முளை வாள் எயிற்றள்,
வளையுடைக் கையள்-எம் அணங்கியோளே.
இயற்கைப் புணர்ச்சி புணர்ந்து நீங்கும் தலைமகன் பாங்கற்கு உரைத்தது.- சத்திநாதனார்

119.What he said

“As a little white snake

with lovely striped on its young body

troubles the jungle elephant

this slip of a girl

her teeth like sprouts of new rice

her wrists stacked with bangles

troubles me.”

Poet: Catti Natanar

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan

This poems has many layers. One layer is suitable for all readers, so I am starting with the most basic layer.

The poet has employed a direct simile the word ‘அங்கு’ means ‘like’. The beautiful simile mentioned here that Wild Elephant which is so huge and can defeat any animal is troubled by  the small snake because its very poisonous and dreadful nature, similarly the hero who is never been defeated in war is troubled by a young girl whose smile is like sprouts of new rice and with bangles in her hand.

This is the very basic level of the interpretation.


Now lets move on two the second level (should confess my own interpretation, but a very valid one),

The original words in Tamil used for trouble is ‘ அணங்கு’. This word has many meanings lets see them,

அணங்கு² aṇaṅku
, n. < id. 1. Pain, affliction, suffering; வருத்தம். (திருமுரு. 289.) 2. Disease; நோய். (பிங்.) 3. Fear; அச்சம். (சூடா.) 4. Lust; மையனோய். (திவா.) 5. Killing; கொலை. (பிங்.) 6. Deity; தெய்வம். (தொல். பொ. 256.) 7. Celestial damsel; தெய்வமகள். (திவா.) 8. Demoness that takes away one’s life by awakening lust or by other means; வருத்திக் கொல்லுந் தெய்வ மகள். (குறள், 918; மணி. 6, 135.) 9. Beautiful woman, as resembling a celestial damsel; தெய்வத்திற் கொப்பான மாதர். (பிங்.) 10. Devil; பேய். துணங்கையஞ் செல்விக் கணங்கு நொடித்தாங்கு (பெரும்பாண். 459). 11. Dancing under religious excitement, esp. possession by Skanda; வெறி யாட்டு. 12. Low-caste person; சண்டாளன். (பிங்.) 13. Beauty; அழகு. (பிங்.) 14. Form; வடிவு அருந்திற லணங்கி னாவியர் பெருமகன் (சிறுபாண். 86). 15. Young offspring; குட்டி. ஆளியி னணங்கு மரி யின் குருளையும் (சிலப். 25, 48).

First the poet uses anangu to describe the suffering of the elephant. Second time he uses it for the girl, if you observe closely the meaning for the word Anangu ‘Demoness that takes away one’s life by awakening lust or by other means; வருத்திக் கொல்லுந் தெய்வ மகள்.’ It was usually believed the Anangu the devil would reside in the breast of the young girl. So the second layer is the poison in the snake makes the elephant terrified and the lust evoked by the beauty of the young girl evokes fear in the Thalaivan(hero).


Now lets move on to the third layer, this layer would contain some mature content , so please proceed only if you want to read this.

This layer of imagery is not my imagination or interpretation. This imagery explained by both U.V Swaminathan Iyer and Dr. Kamil Zvelebil. U.V.Swaminathan Iyer just gives lot of hints around in his commentry and Dr.Zvelebil just throws the clue wide open. All I had to do want proceed in the lead and confirm and show you readers what they meant is actually true.

Lets start with the snake,

The poet describes it as young white snake with ‘vari’.

குருளை kuruḷai Young of a snake

U.V. Swaminatha Iyer says this snake is commonly called

கோதுமை நாகம் kōtumai-nākam

n. < கோதுமை +. A species of cobra with wheat-like patches; கோதுமைத்தானியம் போன்ற புள்ளியுடைய பாம்புவகை.

Doing some research I found this snake to be commonly called as Monocled cobra.

splarticles image


Lets take a closer look ,


See the spots all around its skin. This variety is called Albino because they are white.  These stripes are compared to the beauty of the women in an indirect way.

SO the question becomes how the stripes(dots) can be compared to beauty of a women.

So lets analyse the word

வரி vari :
வரி¹ vari
, n. [T. vaṟi, K. bare, M. vare.] 1. cf. valī. Line, as on shells; streaks, as in timber; stripe; கோடு. நுண்ணிய வரியொடு திரண்டு . . . கண் (சீவக. 1702). 2. Ornamental marks on the breast; தொய்யில் முதலிய இரேகை. மணி வரி தைஇயும் (கலித். 76).

See the second meaning of Vari , it means ‘Ornamental marks on the breast’ – தொய்யில் முதலிய இரேகை.

So lets move deeper and see what தொய்யில் means

தொய்யில் toyyil :

, n. < id. 1. Solution of sandal for drawing figures on the breast and shoulders of women; மகளிரின் தோள் தனங்களில் வரிக்கோல மெழுதுஞ் சந்தனக்குழம்பு. தொய்யில் பொறித்த (மதுரைக். 416). 2. Figures drawn upon the breast of women with sandal solution; மகளிர் தனங்களில் சந்தனக்குழம்பால் எழுதுங்கோலம்.

This clearly shows women of sangam age were found of Body painting with Sandal paste. I researched further to find one of the figures they draw on their breast ,

எழுதுகொடி eḻutu-koṭi :

, n. < id. +. Outline of creeping plant drawn in sandal paste on a woman’s bosom, as an adornment; முலைமேல் எழுதுந் தொய்யில். முலைமேலே எழுதுகொடியாக எழுதி (சீவக. 850, உரை).

So this definitely indicates that the women had some body paint with sandals on their breast. So by implying the snake has stripes ‘vari’, the hero here is indirectly telling this young girl has body paint on her breast.


If you think layer ends with this  , it does not – it goes into a deeper layer –

The clue for this layer is thrown up by Dr.Zvelebil in his most famous book ‘The Smile of Murugan’

” There is also the technique of suggestion used here, or rather comparison by suggestion, which is not apparent at first sight and which requires knowledge of some cultural traits: the avvari “lovely strips” at the body of snake hint at the fair lines, stripes and/or dots(vari) which were considered to be marks of beauty on the body of a woman(particularly on her breasts and venus’ mound)”

First time I read it I felt it was Western worlds take on Indian literature – bringing an sexual content over anything Indian. But when I went ahead and re searched the word , I was in for shock.

The word in context is ‘அவ் வரி’. There is no meaning for this word combination is Tamil Lexicon. So I tried to find this word being employed in other Sangam poems.

I found two poems which employ this word combination.

Lets analyse the first one ,

Narrinai 358 by Nakkirar

பெருந்தோள் நெகிழ அவ் வரி வாடச் சிறு மெல்ஆகம் பெரும்பசப்பு ஊர”  and the urai gives an explanation

“முன்னொருபொழுது நம்முடைய பெரிய தோள் தளர்வடைய அழகிய வரி (இரேகை)கள் வாட்டமுறச் சிறிய மெல்லிய கொங்கைகளிலே பெரிய பசலை பரவ” –

கொங்கை koṅkai :

, n. [M. koṅka.] 1. Woman’s breast; முலை. கொங்கை முன்றிற் குங்கும மெழுதாள் (சிலப். 4, 49).

Translation: Once upon a time our shoulders drooped  and the paleness spread over the soft breast with beautiful swirling stripes.

From this poem it is evident that this ornamental stripe was present in the women’s breast.

There is one more poem I wish to discuss here,

Akam 117

அவ்வரி அல்குல் ஆயமும் உள்ளாள்” –

Lets examine this அவ்வரி அல்குல், the urai is given below for the two words

Urai : அழகிய வரி பொருந்திய அல்குலினையுடைய ……

Translation :  அல்குல் which had beautiful stripes.

What does அல்குல் mean?

அல்குல் alkul Pudendum muliebre; பெண்குறி. (திருக்கோ. 9.)

Google this ‘Pudendum muliebre’ for exact meaning.

These two  poem simply adds as proof to Dr.Zvelebils comment that vari means ‘marks of beauty on the body of a woman(particularly on her breasts(narrinai 358) and venus’ mound(akam 117))’

So the vari now transforms into marks of beauty on breast and venus’ mound of the women. This simply means that the Thalaivan has seen whole body of the Thalaiavi which in turn means that they have had their sexual union.

Now come to colophon of the poem “இயற்கைப் புணர்ச்சி புணர்ந்து நீங்கும் தலைமகன் பாங்கற்கு உரைத்தது

Translation : The thalaivan who is seperated from his lover after having a natural sexual union with her lover, tells this poem to his Friend.

So now you would have made the whole sense of the poem. The Thalaivan indirectly tells to his friend that he has had sexual union with his lover. The brilliance of the poet is that in a situation where he has to describe a sexual union, he brilliantly used the words to convey the meaning in very very in direct way. The whole poem talks about sexual union of the lover without actually mentioning about them any where in the poem. This is not a double meaning poems (which these days have only one meaning) , it is more of cryptic poem where the original meaning of the poem is hidden in deep under many layers and the reader has to uncover all the layers to find the true intended meaning. Each layer throws up a different meaning.

Hope readers who had patience to read the whole blog enjoyed the brilliance of this Sangam poet.



The Smile of Murugan: The Tamil Literature of South India by Kamil Zvelebil

Kuruntholai Urai- U.V.Swaminathan Iyer

Interior landscapes – A.K.Ramanujan

Narrinai urai – Narayana Swami iyer

Akananuru urai – Venkadasamy Natta,Kaasi Vishwanathan Chettiyar



Please post your comments.

Follow me in twitter

Follow blog in Face book

Orkut community

Subscribe Karkanirka


Stumble It!



  1. Hi Vairam, brilliant interpretation, thank you. Similar parellels can be found in the Ramayana too, the concept is not alien to indian culture. The beauty of hte poem is something to be savored, regardless.

  2. Hi Vairam,

    Excellent interpretation, enjoyed…

    When I read that word “anangu” i remembered Kollipavai, this pavai is like a bommai of a real woman and attracts all those who pass by and kill them. My Tamil teacher used to tell abt this paavai during my school days.

  3. Vairam
    A delightful read. Sexual union was considered a most natural thing till the invasion of the Western culture and beliefs. Only now sex has become strongly linked with obscenity and violence.

  4. Hari,
    I would beg to differ from you, this change of sex from an open accepted phenomena to obscene phenomena took place in the shift between Sangam age to Bakthi age. The highly orthodox Jain religion flourishing under the Kalabahras could be one of the reasons.
    Though Victorian age added more woes to our culture….the ancient cultrue of Tamils were more affected by strict religions.


  5. Vairam
    You are right. Throughout history off and on such influences did try to curtail practices like meat eating, liquor and sex outside marriage. But it is my opinion that only in the recent times Tamil and all such unique cultures all over the world were over ridden and defaced losing their identity and merging with the common identity that generally apes the western thought.

  6. Hello, You have taken much strain in establishing that the THALAIVAN had sex. The line directly implies this. You have not explained the SIRU VEL ARAVIN It is custom to the poets to mention the ALGUL as aravu since the head of cobra spread sidewise will look like algul. It also compared to as ARAA ILAI, leave of ARASAMARAM. The meaning is : How the elephant is take trouble on seeing even the small snake, so I felt trouble on seeing her(tender/small) algul and rest of the words refers her youth by age. Thalaivi is younger, having tooth still growing teeth (as sharp as blade), having bangled hands and such is my damsel.

  7. “The line directly implies this”… av vari is the word which links agul here… sangam literature these two specific words are used to describe the beauty marks on breast and the venus mounds… in comment you have said it algul and cobra head look same(basically this comparison comes in lot of shidda literature) but as sangam literature is the most earliest literature…I got establish the fact that algul is actually referred here. And I have taken the pains to how this poem can be inferred with various meaning… “The line directly implies this” is your interpretation and there can be various interpertation. I showed readers how various interpretations can be made from the same poem. If probably if you had Venthu Arasu sir (Muthamil and Min tamil forum) to interpret this poem he would go on to say there was no pre maritial sex in Sangam age.

  8. Excellent post..I have read A.K.Ramanujan’s Interior Landscape and was spell bound.But ,your take on Kurunthokai 119 is simply fantastic…Please, post more insights on other “aham” poems..
    Prabulingam has a valid intrpretation but it doesnt make right sense or am i missing something???

  9. No vulgarities and indecency at all…cannot believe that it is very purely explained ,detailed in this manner…hats off to thamizh 🙂
    Learning lots from here

  10. பழனியப்பன் வைரம் .. தங்களது உள்ளுரை விளக்கம் மிகவும் அற்புதமாக இருக்கின்றது. உள்ளுரையை விளக்க தாங்கள் எடுத்துக்கொண்ட முயற்சிக்கு பாராட்டுகள்.

  11. many of these words are used in song 42 of abirami anthathi-

    sometime in 18th century

    its the song thats used in the movie guna

  12. i learned many things within oneday visit to ur blog .. thanks for such wonderfull news 😛

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.