Walking on a tight rope!- Kurunthokai 7


Every time I come across the visual imagery of the Sangam poems , I am awestruck by the brilliance of the poet. They are able connect the nature and the acts in the day to day life, which we can never think of. The beauty of all these imagery (other than being such delightfully) are situational. Imagery used in each poem has some connection to the mood of the poem.

The poem I am about to discuss has a beautiful visual imagery and also throws light into the custom of the Ancient Tamils.
—-
7. பாலை
வில்லோன் காலன கழலே; தொடியோள்
மெல் அடி மேலவும் சிலம்பே; நல்லோர்
யார்கொல்? அளியர்தாமே-ஆரியர்
கயிறு ஆடு பறையின், கால் பொரக் கலங்கி,
வாகை வெண் நெற்று ஒலிக்கும்
வேய் பயில் அழுவம் முன்னியோரே.
செலவின்கண் இடைச்சுரத்துக் கண்டார் சொல்லியது. – பெரும்பதுமனார்

….

Kurunthokai 7- What the passers – By Said

This bowman has a warrior’s band

on his ankle;

the girl with the bracelet on her arm

has a virgin’s anklets

on her tender feet.

They look like good people.

In these places

the winds beat

upon the vakai trees

and make the white seedpods rattle

like drums for acrobats

dancing on the tightropes.

poor things,who could they be?

and what makes them walk

with all the others

through these desert ways

so filled with bamboos?


Poet : Perumpatumanar

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan

….

Situation:

Thalaivan and Thalaivi are in love. Thalaivi with burning passion shows sign of love sickness and the symptoms are witnessed by her mother and house arrests her. Either at this stage or at stage when her parents see a bride groom for her or a stage where she is very ashamed to confess to her parents she is in love, the lovers decide to elope. This poem is uttered by passers by in the palai region when they see the young lovers eloping.

…..

..

Commentary:

Description of Thalaivan:

The Thalaivan is having a bow and a warrior anklet, this is to signify that the Thalaivan was a brave man and he is prepared to fight any one trying to stop them eloping.

Its important we look into the actual word for the warrior anklet

கழல் kaḻal

n. < கழல்-. [K. M. kaḻal.] 1. Anklet given as a token of honour to a warrior; வீரக்கழல். ஒண்பொறிக் கழற்கால் (பதிற் றுப். 34, 2).

This shows that the Thalaivan was an accomplished warrior .

Description of Thalaivi:

The young girl is wearing a bracelet and an anklet.

Lets see the two words employed here,

தொடி toṭi (page 2087)

, n. < தொடு²-. 1. Curve, bend; வளைவு. தொடிவளைத் தோளும் (சிலப். 10, 128). 2. Bracelet; கைவளை. (பிங்.) குறுந்தொடி கழித்தகைச் சாபம் பற்றி (புறநா. 77). 3. Armlet;தோள்வளை. நீப்ப நீங்காது வரின்வரை யமைந்து . . . போக்கில் பொலந்தொடி (நற். 136). 4. Armlet, warrior’s armlet; வீரவளை. வலிகெழு தடக்கை தொடியொடுசுடர்வர (மதுரைக். 720).

Thodi is either a bracelet or an armlet worn by the women. Now lets look into the orther ornament ,

சிலம்பு cilampu (page 1435)

2. [M. cilambu.] Tinkling anklets worn by women; மகளிர் காலணிவகை. ஒன்றின வோவவ ளஞ்சிலம் படியே (ஐங்குறு. 389).

This Silambu has special significance. I dont know how many people know this.

Please do not confuse this with the silambu of silapathikaram. Both are different. This silambu had special significance. Like present day metti which is used to signify that the women is married , the silambu in Sangam period was used to signify the women is unmarried(or virgin).

I have to mention about this custom here,

சிலம்புகழிநோன்பு cilampu-kaḻi-nōṉpu :
, n. < சிலம்பு +. Ancient ceremony preliminary to marriage, probably consisting in removing the anklets of a bride; மணவினைக்குமுன் பெண் ணிற்கு நடத்தும் சிலம்புகழற்றுதலாகிய சடங்குவகை. (ஐங்குறு. 399, உரை.)

There are at least 3 to 4 poems which tell about this custom. I am planning to write a detailed blog by next week.

And for now , we can understand that the girl is not married (probably a virgin).

..

Significance of the description of the lovers:

The description seems to have certain significance here, the on lookers see the kalal the warrior anklet and the silambu the virgin anklet. Onlookers now understand that the man is a Honorable and famed warrior and the young girl is a virgin. They are passing through palai (very dreadful and infertile land). The Thalaivan is prepared for a fight in case any one is there to oppose( with his bow). This makes them understand that these two are lovers , who are eloping to get married. Hence they feel sorry for them and utter the words

‘நல்லோர் யார்கொல்? அளியர்தாமே’

They look like good people.poor things,who could they be?

அளியர் – இரங்கும் இயல்பினர்.

இரங்கு-. 1. Mercy, grace, commiseration; தயை. இரக்கமுடை யிறை யவனூர் (தேவா. 145, 9). 2. Pity, compassion; melting of heart, as of a mother at the sight of her child in distress, or of a cow for her calf;

….

..

Visual Imagery:

Now comes my favourite part , the visual imagery.

ஆரியர்

கயிறு ஆடு பறையின், கால் பொரக் கலங்கி,

வாகை வெண் நெற்று ஒலிக்கும்.

In these places

the winds beat

upon the vakai trees

and make the white seedpods rattle

like drums for acrobats

dancing on the tightropes.

….

..


The white seed pods gets swayed by the wind and it creates sound like the drums used while the  Aryan acrobats perform their dance on the tight ropes. If you actually see the visual of the  white seedpods of the vakai tree you will understand visual imagery the poet has infused into it.

Here is the picture of the white seedpods of the vakai tree,

source -http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_oH7YVmRWh-s/SASv-kgyFwI/AAAAAAAABGw/QGqlfdqy7X4/s400/Albizia+julibrissin+seed+pod.jpg

Now just visualize the wind hitting the white seedpods and they start swaying across the branch with the force of the wind. It will be swaying and its only support from being blown away is its attchemnt to the branch of the tree.

Now I have two visuals for you, luckily I could get the exact description of what the poet meant .

See this video,

See the young boy having a drum and Rajesh Khanna performing the tight rope walk and dance. The boy is actually using band drum, so get more authetic here is Vathiyar M.G.R’s clip with nagesh playing the dolak(closest to description given by the poet).

If you have seen it carefully u can visualise the swaying of the white seedpods of the tree while the wind hits it is very very close to the way the rope dancer swing themselves across the ropes. This is very beautifully captured by the poet by his beautiful imagery within his simile.

How this imagery adds to the mood of the poem?

The lovers are now walking a tight rope.The thalaivi has come out of her home, the Thalaivan is taking her away, their life is very unstable and one wrong step can land them in trouble.

I hope I have explained you properly enough to make you imagine the imagery the poet has infused into his beautiful poem.
——

Some words for your knowledge,

கால்³ kāl
, n. < கால்-. [T. gāli.] 1. Wind, air, any of the vital airs; காற்று. கால்கடிப் பாகக் கடலொலித் தாங்கு (பதிற்றுப். 68, வேய்² vēy

வேய்¹-. 1. Bamboo. See மூங்கில், 1. வேய்ப்பெயல் விளையுட் டேக்கட் டேறல் (மலைபடு. 171). 2. Bamboo rod; மூங்கிற்கோல்.

பொரு -தல் poru-4. To blow, as the wind; வீசுதல். குரூஉப்புகை பிசிரக் கால்பொர (பதிற்றுப். 15, 6).-

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Reference:

Literary conventions of akam poetry by Kamil Zvelebil

Kuruntholai Urai- U.V.Swaminathan Iyer

Interior landscapes – A.K.Ramanujan

Tamil Lexicon

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8 thoughts on “Walking on a tight rope!- Kurunthokai 7

  1. I don’t quite catch the ‘Aliyar thame’ part. Does it refer to thoe young couple or those who pity them?

    The seeds of Vagai tree rattle quite a bit. As a matter of fact they are referred to uncharitably as ‘ladies tongue’. In any case they are a good similie for a drum or atleast ‘udukkai’.

    A similar song is in Nalayira Divya Prabandham which follows Sangam Aham poetry traditions, albeit with Vishnu as the thalaivan. ‘Kalvan kol’ pasuram of Thirumangai Azhwr where the mother laments the elopement has similar sentiment.

  2. Hello, This poem has much poetic pleasure. The poet shows a comparision of legs. The leg of man is told as a ordinary one, whereas of the woman, he attributes MRL ADI MELAVUM SILAMBA. Wearing VEERAKALAL is a told in ordinary sense. But the silabu implies that the woman is wearing it and now, during elope where her pace of walk of spead the weight of silambu hurts upon the feet, and below the feet, hot sand of PALAI hurts. Her quick pace seems to the poet the dance of KALAI KOOTHADI dancing according to the rythms of the drum. In the backround of the rattle of VAGAI, and the weaping whishile of the bamboo, produces sympathy on the women. MELAVYM, KALANGI and AVLUVAM are key workd for this poetic beauty. Thanking you.

  3. The poem as well as the illustrations are very brilliant. Poem being brilliant is not a surprise as it belongs to the Sangam age. There are many such wonderful descriptions there. The illustrations given here are really superb and they are supported by strong references – a really in-depth study indeed.
    During my childhood I have heard the sounds of the ‘paRai’ made by the kazaikkooththAdi. The drum will be beaten fast when there was a rope walking – to increase the ‘tempo’.
    I am really surprised to know that this has been in vogue for 1000s of years.
    You can make more such studies with illustrations- why not bring a book or CD called kuRunthokai- Illustrated?

  4. Corrected version
    The poem as well as the illustrations are very brilliant. Poem being brilliant is not a surprise as it belongs to the Sangam age. There are many such wonderful descriptions there. The illustrations given here are really superb and they are supported by strong references – a really in-depth study indeed.
    During my childhood I have heard the sounds of the ‘paRai’ made by the kazaikkooththAdi. The drum will be beaten fast when there was a rope walking – to increase the ‘tempo’.
    I am really surprised to know that this has been in vogue for 1000s of years.
    You can make more such studies with illustrations- why not bring a book or CD called kuRunthokai- Illustrated?

  5. நல்ல விளக்கம். ஒலியும் ஒளியும் தந்து சங்கத்தமிழ் விளக்கியிருக்கிறீர்கள், உங்களுக்கு நன்றி. மதுரையில் சிறுவயதில் கோடை விடுமுறை நாட்களில் கழைக்கூத்தாடிகளின் பறையோடு கூடிய திறமைவாய்ந்த வித்தைகளைக் கண்டு களித்திருக்கிறேன். ஆனால், கயிற்றில் நடப்பதை இளம் காதலர்களின் புதிய வாழ்க்கைபோல் சித்த்ரித்திருப்பதை இப்போதுதான் கேட்கிறேன்.

    பலே! பலே!

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