Seperation of lovers – Krishna stealing clothes of Gopikas – Murgan in Thiruparankundram – Akam 59

This poem is one of the most important poems in Sangam literature. Though this is the kind of Sangam poem I like with lot of comparisons and hidden meanings, this poem particularly interests me for some other reason. This poem contains interesting references to Krishna myths and Murugan’s adobe Thiruparankundram.

59. பாலை
தண் கயத்து அமன்ற வண்டு படு துணை மலர்ப்
பெருந் தகை இழந்த கண்ணினை, பெரிதும்
வருந்தினை, வாழியர், நீயே! வடாஅது
வண் புனல் தொழுநை வார் மணல் அகன் துறை,
அண்டர் மகளிர் தண் தழை உடீஇயர்
மரம் செல மிதித்த மாஅல் போல,
புன் தலை மடப் பிடி உணீஇயர், அம் குழை,
நெடு நிலை யாஅம் ஒற்றி, நனை கவுள்
படி ஞிமிறு கடியும் களிறே தோழி!
சூர் மருங்கு அறுத்த சுடர் இலை நெடு வேல்,
சினம் மிகு முருகன் தண் பரங்குன்றத்து,
அந்துவன் பாடிய சந்து கெழு நெடு வரை,
இன் தீம் பைஞ் சுனை ஈரணிப் பொலிந்த
தண் நறுங் கழுநீர்ச் செண் இயற் சிறுபுறம்
தாம் பாராட்டிய காலையும் உள்ளார்
வீங்கு இறைப் பணைத் தோள் நெகிழ, சேய் நாட்டு
அருஞ் செயற் பொருட்பிணி முன்னி, நப்
பிரிந்து, சேண் உறைநர் சென்ற ஆறே.

தலைமகன் பிரிவின்கண் வேறுபட்ட கிழத்திக்குத் தோழி சொல்லியது.- மதுரை மருதன் இளநாகன்

Akam 59
You, who have lost the beauty
of the twin flowers in the cool ponds
which are adored
by the bees which swarm them,
have suffered a lot.
Long live you.

Cool Kuvalai flower in the
sweet nectar like
fresh mountain pool,
on the high mountain
with abundant sandal trees
sung about by Anutuvan,
called cool Parankunram ,
‘the seat of
Murukan of great wrath
the possessor of
the long spear
with a shining leaf edge
that had cut the body of cur(curan)
into two’ ,
is comparable to
the natural beauty of your
back with swaying
tresses made
into a knot.
Think about the time
when Thalaivan used
to celebrate this beauty of yours.

your arms to slim
like the swollen bamboo,
Thalaivan has left us
to perform the
great job of
accumulating wealth
in the distant land.

In his journey to
distant land, (he would see)
the male elephant would bend and
break the high Ya tree,
for the young
female elephant to eat
the gentle shoots like,
“Maal who trampled the tress
by walking upon it ,
in order to allow
the bathing women
of the cowherd community,
to dress into
the cooling foliage
on the wide spread sand banks,
of Tolunai(Yamuna) river of the north
full of water”and
chase away the
bees settling in
cheeks drenched in lust.
(Seeing this, Thalaivan would
come back).

Poet : Madurai Marutan Ilanaakan

Translated by me based on Swaminathan Iyer’s and Dr.Kamil Zvelebil’s commentry.

I would like to start of with my favorite part of stepping into the shoes of the poet and think why he has written this love poem in this way,

Thalaivan has left Thaliavi to earn wealth in distant land. Thalaivi is love sick due to the separation and wishes to see Thalaivan soon.Panki(Thalaivi’s foster sister /friend) then consoles the Thalaivi saying that Thalaivan would return soon.

The eyes of the Thalaivi were so beautiful like twin flowers in cool pond which was swarmed by bees. But she has lost that beauty now because she suffers the separation from her lover. Thalaivan once used to praise the natural beauty of Thalaivi’s back topped with her tresses made into knot (kondai!).

The poet compares this with the Kuvalai flower in the cool nectar like pond in the high mountain of Kundram. Now this requires visualization,why in the world a poet should compare kuvalai flower and back of the Thalaivi with her Knot of the tresses. You can only understand when you see a kuvalai.

Below is the picture of a Kuvalai.


Now I want you to concentrate on the stalk of the flower. See the lean curved shape of the stalk. And also visualize the flowers coming out of the stalk. Now see this video you will understand the poets imagination or probably my imagination from the poet’s words.

Thalaivan has now left Thalaivi to earn wealth. Because of this thalaivi’s arm has been slimming to the size of the bamboo. This is to say she is not properly eating and also has sickness due to sepration from her lover.


In Thalaivan’s journey he would see male elephant would bend the high trees so that his tender love, female elephant can eat it and also chase away the bees which swarm the cheeks which is drenched with lust(Jollu!), seeing this he would come back. This act is compared to that of the Krishna who swindled the dresses of the gopikas when they went to bath in Yamuna and when Balarama came that side, to save the girls from shame he trampled the wild lime (kuruntha maram) with his legs and gave them place to hide.

Significance of these lines:
Elephant bending the high trees for the female elephant – Thalaivan leaving thalaivi to earn wealth.
Bees swarming the cheek drenched in lust – Thalaivi suffering from love sickness and separation from the lover.
Act of the male elephant chasing away would make the Thalaivan realize that he has to chase the love sickness away from his lover and return back to see the Thalaivi.

Mal/Krishna taking away the clothes of the ayar girls – Thalaivan taking away peace of the Thalaivi with him while he is in search of wealth.
Ayar girls in a state of shame when when Balaraman comes – Thalaivi becoming love sick due to separation.
Krishna saving the girls before any shame can fall on them – Thalaivi expecting Thalaivan to come back and save her from love sickness.


This poem also attests Thiruparankundram as one of the earliest sacred sites of Murugan(other mentioned in Sangam is Centhi- Thirucenthur. The high mountain(netuvarai) with copius sandal trees is mentioned which was sung about by Anutuvan, which is called ‘cool’ Parankunram and which is the seat of “Murukan of great anger with the long spear with a shining leaf like point that had cut in two the body of cur(curan)” .


Anutuvan was a fellow poet Nallantuvanar(any time between 250-400 AD) who had sung about Thiruparankundram in Paripadal poem 8(The song contains detailed descritpion of Thiruparamkundram – I am yet to read it!). He is supposed to be one of the gifted poets of the late sangam age.He is laos the author of  Akam 43,Narrinai 88,Paripatal 6, Kalithokai 118-150 and may also have been the compiler of Kalithokai anthology.The poet here honors him in his poem by saying the Thirparankundram which was sung by Anutuvan.

Earliest refernce to Krishna and Gopikas in Yamuna?????

Following lines are translated by Dr. Kamil Zvelebil.

The male elephant destroying gentle shoots for his female to eat is compared to “Maal who trampled (tread,jumped,mitittu) walking upon [the branches of ] the trees (i.e. Kuruntamaram, the wild lime felled by Kannan) in order to dress into the cooling foliage the young women(makalir) of the cowhers(antar) community,[on the banks ] of broad ford with wide spread sands, of Tolunai river full of water”.

And according to Dr.Zvelebil, this version of legend is not known to any Sanskrit source. The earliest Sanskrit source seems to be either Bhagavathapurana or the Vishnupurana. Hence it seems this Akam 59 poem by Maturai Marutanilanakan seems to be the earliest in India to mention the Motif of Krishna and the cowherds on the banks of the Yamuna river.

The full motif of Krishna,Balaraman and cowherd girls in Yamuna  is mentioned in Cinthamani 209 in the following verse(sorry no translation – Already took more than a week for this blog)

“”நீனிற வண்ண னன்று நெடுந்துகில் என்பது. இதனை,
பானிற வண்ண னோக்கிற் பழியுடைத் தென்று கண்டாய்
வேனிறத் தானை வேந்தே விரிபுனற் றொழுனை யாற்றுட்
போனிற வளையி னார்க்குக் குருந்தவ னொசித்த தென்றான்

Below is take of Professor George L. Hart’s take on this poem(Akam 59)

Akam 59 describes ” an elephant who bends down tall ya trees so his mate can eat, like Krishna[Mal}, who bent [branches] down by treading on them [miti-after climbing?] so that the cowherd girls on the wide sandy shore of Tolunai[yamuna] is the North could [make and] wear cool dresses.” This is one of the earliest references to the story of Krishna and the Gopis in Indian Literature; it must be about contemporary with or only a bit later than Harivamsa. In any event,its appearance in Tamil at this early date indicates that it must have been well known in many parts of India already. The theme of the hero presenting his beloved the leaves for her to make a dress (talai) is one peculiar to Tamil. More over the name used for both the god Krishna and the rover Yamuna are Tamil terms;Mal, ” the black one”; Tolunai, probably from the root tolu, “to worship” , the only example in the poems surveyed of a pure Tamil name for a place in north India. Thus it is evident that, from the very beginning, the Tamils applied their own poetic conventions to the gods and mythological figures from North India and that from the first they emphasized the roles of new gods in what was for them central and most scared act of life, love between man and women”.

Murugan Killer of Cur or Curan’s Race ???? – One word two entirely different meanings

The following line had two interpretations and each one can totally change the way we look at history of Tamils,

சூர் மருங்கு அறுத்த சுடர் இலை நெடு வேல்

சூர்- cur (the counterpart of Murugan) – presently known as Curan or Curapadman

மருங்கு maruṅku(can mean a lot of things just giving the two meanings we use for this context)

4. Form; வடிவு. பொன்னனார் மருங்கு போன்றணி மாக்கவின் கொண்டதே (சீவக. 1195).

9. Race, tribe, family; குலம். சூர் மருங்கறுத்த மொய்ம்பின் மதவலி (திருமுரு. 275)

அறு²-த்தல் aṟu-

11 v. caus. of அறு¹-. [M. aṟu.] tr. 1. To part asunder, break off, as a cord, cut off, as with a knife, separate, as with a saw, reap, as with a sickle; அரிதல். 2. To sever, cleave, cut in two; ஊடறுத்தல். விசும் பறுத் திழிந்து (சீவக. 3055). 3. To root out, exterminate: இல்லாமற் செய்தல். துயரங்க ளண்டா வண்ண மறுப்பான் (தேவா. 50, 1).

சுடர்¹ cuṭar

n. < சுடு-. 1. [M. cuṭar.] Light, brilliance, lustre; ஒளி. தெறுசுட. ரொண் கதிர் ஞாயிறு (புறநா. 6, 27).

இலை¹ ilai

n. [K. Tu. ele, M. ila.] 1. Leaf; மரஞ் செடிகளின் இலை. இலை வளர்குரம்பை (சீவக. 1432). 9. Blade of a weapon or instrument; ஆயுதவலகு. நச்சிலை வேற்படைவீரர் (சீவக. 2209).

நெடுமை neṭumai

n. [T. niḍu, M. neṭu.] 1. Length, extension; நீளம். குறுமையு நெடுமை யும் (தொல். எழுத். 50). 2. Tallness, height, as of a person or tree; உயரம். நெடுமையா லுலகேழு மளந்தாய் (திவ். பெரியாழ். 5, 1, 4).

வேல்¹ vēl

n. prob. வெல்-. 1. Dart, spear, lance, javelin; நுனிக்கூர்மையுடைய ஆயுதவகை. நெடுவேல் பாய்ந்த மார்பின் (புறநா. 297).

Curved Leaf - Pointed spear
Curved Leaf - Pointed spear

So one reading of this line can be,

Long leaf shaped pointed lance which exterminated Curan/Surapadman’s race

Traditionally this is the reading done by Nachinarkiniyar,Parimelalakar and U.V Swaminathan Iyer. This would be probably well accepted version because as of the myths we know Murugan was born as son of HSiva an parvathi to exterminate Suran and his family of Asuras. But this myth has very deep Northern influence.

The other reading of this line can be,

Long leaf shaped pointed Lance which cut the form(mangoo tree form) of cur into two

This is the reading done by Fillizot and Dr.Zvelebil. And even I have taken this reading for my translation. The reason being The Sangam Tamil Myth of Murugan was that his opposite Cur(not curan or Surapadaman) was a evil spirit(just like our kathu karupu) . He had taken the form of Mangoo tree in the deep sea. Murugan has used his leaf shaped lance to split the tree into two and take victory over the Evil.

This is very popular motif present in Sangam age. This myth was encorporated in the current myth such that Surapadman (cur was Changed to Suran/Surapadman head of Asuras – northern influence) and his clan of asuras were killed by Murugan. So thats why we still have Surapadman killed in Thirucentur (only arupdaiveedu on a sea shore) because the old Tamil myth has it that Murugan killed the Cur who had transformed into Mango tree in the deep sea.

The first reading was influenced by the later sanskritic influence and advent of Thriumurgatru padai (which is considered to be very late work though it is traditionaly dated in Sangam age.)

Since this poem was written atleast 2 centuries before the first Skanda -Muruga literature (Silapadikaram) the poet would have meant the line to be ” Long leaf shaped pointed Lance which cut the form(mangoo tree form) of cur into two”.

This brings to an end to a special poem. Special in many ways though, earliest refernce of Krishna and Yamuna, reading of one line which can change a whole way we look into Murugan Myth and a beautiful comparison of a plant and a women’s body.

Kuvalai and the women
Kuvalai and the women


Special thanks to Kapila and VJ(Poetry in stone) for giving suggestions on this blog!!



Tamil Traditions on Subramanya Murugan by Kamil V.Zvelebil

The poems of the ancient Tamils by George L. Hart

Akanaanuru Urai by U.V.Swaminathan Iyer

Tamil Literature by Kamil Zvelebil

99 Tamil flowers –

Tamil Lexicon


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  1. ok, i wish i didn’t say that, but i cant remove my comment. but good job on the analogies 🙂 i wish you had been my tamil teacher. i would have understood a lot more and my already existing love for the language would have been strengthened with some proper guidance about the language! 🙂

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