The blog has been recently updated after one my friends Mr.Anand Raman contribute few pictures he took while he had a Nilgiri trip. The Phtos are very invaluable and would help you to understand the poem better. Incidentally wrote this blog lat year on Pongal and updating it on a Pongal day year later.
Happy Pongal to all the readers. I was so guilty of not writing for so long that I have decided to write on this day special to Tamilians all around the world. Few months ago I came across this poem in a book ‘Sips from the Sangam cup’. This song really shows the wisdom of the Tamil people 2000 years ago. This poem answers on basic doubt most youngsters have these days. So without giving much more buildup like Tamil action heroes I will proceed to the poem.
பெரு நன்று ஆற்றின், பேணாரும் உளரே?
ஒரு நன்று உடையள் ஆயினும், புரி மாண்டு,
புலவி தீர அளிமதி-இலை கவர்பு,
ஆடு அமை ஒழுகிய தண் நறுஞ் சாரல்,
மென்நடை மரையா துஞ்சும்
நன் மலை நாட!-நின் அலது இலளே.
உடன்போக்கு ஒருப்படுத்து மீளும் தோழி தலைமகற்குக் கூறியது. – கபிலர்
Kurunthokai 115 When a person does a great good,
would there be any one who wouldn’t praise it?
Though she has little goodness ,
let your desire for her attain greatness,
put an end to your love quarrel
and protect her esteem.
You are the resident of the mountain,
where wild cows with its slow steps
eat leaves from other trees
and sleep in the slopes of the mountain
under the cool excellent shade
spread out by the swaying mature bamboos.
She doesn’t have anyone other than you!
What her friend said to the Hero after urging him to elope with her in time. Poet: Kapilar
Translated by me.
Thalivan and Thalaivi have met , fallen in love and had natural sexual union . The people from girls side doubt girls action, so they keep her guarded. Thalaivan and Thalaivi can no more bare the feeling of being separated , hence the Panki(Thalaivi’s friend ) arranges their elopement and utters the following advice to the Thalaivan before he leaves with the Thalaivi.
The outer layer:
Panki tells Thalaivan that the girl is young and has only few good habits with her, so it was the duty of him to take care of her by always loving her and stop having any fights and sulking with her. She reminds him that Thalaivi now has no one to support her except Thalaivan as she is running away from her family and she no more has a family of her own.
Wild cows steal leaves from the trees and eat them . When they get tired they sleep in the mountain slope under the shadow of the well-grown bamboo trees.
Reading this line would make readers wonder what is the connection between a wild cow sleeping under bamboo trees and hero eloping with heroine ? here is the answer:
The wild cows love to eat leaves from the bamboo trees when the tree was tender and young.
The wild cows graze the trees and shrubs in their reach. When the bamboo tree is tender its leaves are in level where the cows can reach and eat them.
But as the bamboo trees became mature and grew big in size, it had no leaves which are within the reach of the wild cows. Hence the wild cows eat leaves from other trees but since the bamboo trees was once provider of the food they loved the most, the cows out of gratitude would go and sleep under the shade of the bamboo trees.
Similarly the Thalaivi now young and in prime of her youth would have the beauty and can offer sexual pleasure that the Thalaivan needs like the bamboo offering the leaves to the cows. But as age increases she would lose her physical beauty and vitality of her youth. At that time Thalaivan shouldn’t desert her , instead like the cows which sit under shade of the bamboo tree out of gratitude and indebtedness, Thalivan should think of the sacrifices and offerings the Thalaivi has given to Thalaivan so that he can attain the pleasure he desired in his youth. Thalaivi has sacrified her whole family just to be with Thalaivan . Thalaivan should remember this and stop all love quarrels with Thalaivi and keep her happy by always loving her. The poet has employed this line “When a person does a great good,would there be any one who wouldn’t praise it?” to say that when she is young and beautiful you will treat her very nicely, but it takes a real man to show the same love when she loses her physical beauty.
There is actually two opinions on this imagery. U.V.Swaminathan Iyer gives the explanation I have given above, but Shanmugam Pillay and David Ludden contend that the leaves are of Bamboo leaves and not from other trees.
This confusion is due to interpretation of this word கவர்பு
Swaminathan Iyer takes the following meaning,
, n. < கவர்²-. Differing; வேறு படுகை. கவர்பு முண்டோ கற்றோய் (ஞானா. 66, 13).
Whereas Shanmugam Pillay and David Ludden take the following meaning,
கவர்¹-தல் kavar-, 4 v. tr. [K. M. kavar.] 1. To seize, grasp, catch, capture, take by force, steal; அகப்படுத்துதல். மூங்கிற் கவர்கிளை போல (பதிற்றுப். 84, 12). 2. To rob, plunder, pillage; கொள்ளையிடுதல். வீடறக் கவர்ந்த வினைமொ ழிந்தன்று (பு. வெ. 3, 15, கொளு). 3. To get control of, charm, captivate; வசப்படுத்துதல். உள்ளங்கவர் கள்வன் (தேவா. 61, 1). 4. To desire; விரும்புதல். (திவா.) 5. To receive; பெற்றுக் கொள்ளுதல். வறியோர்கவர . . . எறிந்து (தஞ்சைவா. 26). 6. To experience, enjoy; நுகர்தல். கனி யிருப்பக் காய்கவர்ந் தற்று (குறள், 100). 7. To have sexual connection with; முயங்குதல். கவர் கணைச் சாமனார் தம்முன் (கலித். 94, 33). 8. To churn, reduce by trituration or attrition; கடை தல். (திவா.) 9. To call, summon; அழைத்தல். கானக்கோழிக் கவர்குரற் சேவல் (மலைபடு. 510).
So if we go by Shanmugam Pillay and David Ludden would the meaning of the poem change? actually not!
The meaning now would be the wild cows stole the leaves from bamboo and settled below the bamboo tree in its shadow.
Now refer to meaning 6,7 of the word கவர்¹-தல். The word means steal and also means enjoy experience – to have sexual connection. Now this way it means Thalaivan has had sexual union with Thalaivi and hence he should always be under her shade and not stray away as she gets old.
Either way the philosophy of love marriage is :
Beauty and sexual pleasure which satisfies your physical needs only last for while but for the rest of your life you have be grateful to your wife and keep her happy by showing her unconditional love for what she has given you.
Hence you can infer all love starts with attraction and physical beauty, but it should move past the lust and remain life long as pure affection!
ஒரு பெரிய நன்மையை செய்தல் , பாராட்டாதவர்கள் யாரும் உண்டோ ?
நீ வாழும் மலை பகுதியில் , காட்டுப்பசுக்கள் பல மரத்தில் உள்ள இலையை உண்டு விட்டு உயர்ந்து வளர்ந்த மூங்கிலின் நிழல் படியும் மலைச் சரிவில் உறங்கும் .
அப்பசுக்கள் ஒரு காலத்தில் விரும்பி உண்ட இலைகளை கொடுத்தவை அந்த மூங்கில் மரங்கள் , தற்போது வளர்ந்த விட்ட நிலையில் பசுக்களுக்கு எட்டாத உயரத்தில் இலைகள் இருந்தாலும் அந்த பசுக்கள் அந்த மூங்கில் மரத்திற்கு நன்றி செலுத்தும் மன உணர்வுடன் அந்த மூங்கில் மரத்தின் கீழ் படுத்து உறங்கும் .
அதே போல் உன் மனைவியாகப் போகும் இவள் இளையவள் , சில நல்ல குணங்கள் மட்டுமே கொண்டவள் .
இந்த இளமை பருவத்தில் அழகும் , உன் ஆசைகளை பூர்த்தி செய்யும் குணமும் இருக்கும் . அனால் வயதாகிய பின்னர் அவள் அழகையும் , இளமையையும் இழந்து விடுவாள். அன்று அவள் உன் மோகத்துக்கு விருந்தாக இருக்க முடியாது , அப்படி பட்ட காலத்திலும் அவள் உன் மேல் கொண்ட காதலை எண்ணி , ஊடல்களை விட்டு , அளவில்லா அன்பைப் பொழிந்து அவளை போற்றிப் பாதுகாப்பாயாக!
அவளுக்கு உன்னைவிட்டல வேறு யாரும் இல்லை ! அவள் குடும்பத்தை உதறிவிட்டு உன்னுடன் இப்பொழுது புறப்பட்டு விட்டால் !
Sips from Sangam Cup by A.V.Subramanian
Kurunthokai – translation by Shanmugam Pillay and David Ludden
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
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
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
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.
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.
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)
, 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).
, n. < சுடு-. 1. [M. cuṭar.] Light, brilliance, lustre; ஒளி. தெறுசுட. ரொண் கதிர் ஞாயிறு (புறநா. 6, 27).
, 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).
, 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).
“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.
Special thanks to Kapila and VJ(Poetry in stone) for giving suggestions on this blog!!
Tamil Traditions on Subramanya Murugan by Kamil V.Zvelebil