The last Tamil Sangam or Tamil Academy existed before 2000 years ago in Madurai. The Tamil scholars of that period scrutinised the works of the poets, and compiled the best into Sangam literature. Ettuththogai and Pathuppaattu are the most popular to this day.
These Sangam songs are the written documents of the culture and civilisation, historical events, artistic talents and noble thoughts of the Tamils during the Sangam period.
Nattrinai is one of the books of Ettuthogai. This comprises 400 Agam songs on love. The other two Agam compilations are Kurunthogai and Agannaanooru.
Nattrinai is made up of nine short verses and up to twelve long verses.
According to the five landscapes of ancient Tamil Nadu, the songs too are classified accordingly:
In this arduous task of going through all the works of the poets, and selecting the best 400 amongst them is time consuming and needs real dedication. Travel in those days was long and tiresome, walking from place to place to collect the manuscripts and bringing them all to Madurai is no easy task,taking into consideration of the mode of transport on bullock carts or by foot.
There was always a sponsor to meet out the expenses for this important undertaking.. Mostly the king used to be such a sponsor. Sangam poets from different parts of Tamil Nadu have to travel all the way to Madurai to present their poems in front of the scholars of the Tamil Sangam. The sponsor should provide them with decent lodging and food during their stay in Madurai.
The sponsor who was responsible for the successful compilation of Nattrinai was Pandian Pannaadu Thanthaan Maaran Vazhuthi. He was the reigning Pandan king of that period. "Pannadu Thanthaan" is a honour accorded to this Pandian King and it is self explanatory, that he has donated many countries meaning vast stretches of lands to deserving people. Besides being the king of the Pandya kingdom,he has also proved himself as a worthy poet and a lover of literature. Nattrinai 97 and Kurunthogai 270 songs are written by him. This is proof of the literary talent of the kings of Tamil Nadu. His Nattrinai poem goes as follows:
" Azhunthupadu vizhuppun vazhumbuvaai pulara
Evva nenjathu ekgu erinth thaangu
pirivila pulambi nuvalum kuyilinum,
Theruneer kezheeiya yaarunani kodithe!!
Athaninum kodiyal thaane, ' mathanin
Thuithalai ithazha painkuruk kathiyodu
Pithigai viravumalar kolleero? ' ena
vandusoozh vattiyan thiritharum
Thandala uzhavar thanimada magale! "
Thalaivan has not returned from his long journey at the specified time. Thalaivi relates her deep sorrow to her friend. She hears the cuckoo bird cooing in search of its partner..But her sorrow is like the pain inflicted by a sharp spear-head piercing a deep wound. Such is the poetic imagination and language of a Pandian king. Just think of the love of language even among Tamil kings.
Though the Pandian king Maaran Vazhuthi is the sponsor for Nattrinai, we are not sure who compiled these 400 songs. But from the selection of these songs we can infer that he too must have a been a romantic poet who honoured love according to the Sangam tradition.
In conformity with the tradition of Sangam literature Nattrinai too starts with the praise of God. This was written by Perunthevanaar.
" Maanilanj sevadi yaagath, thooneer
Valainaral powam udukkai yaaga,
Visumbumei yaagath thisaikai yaagap,
Pasunkathir mathiyamodu sudarkann naaga
iyandra vellaam paiyindru, agath thadangiya
Vetha muthalvan enba -
Threthara vilangiya thigiri yone."
He encompasses the wide landmass as his red feet. The roaring sea along with with the pouring waves is His loin attire. His body is of the hue of the blue sky. The four directions are his four hands. The radiant light of the moon and the ever bright sun are His two eyes. He encompasses all and He is omnipotent and provider of everything. He is also the first of the four Vedas. Let Him preserve and bless this collection of poems and make it available throughout the world.
The poets of Nattrinai brought out the beauty of pure love in the most romantic and dramatic manner , Again as in Kurunthogai the songs of Nattrinaiu revolves around the Thalaivan, Thalaivi and Thozhi.
Although all the 400 Nattrinai songs are worth mentioning it is humanely impossible in this section.I would quote some of the popular songs wherever possible.
One of the often quoted song ends as follows:
" Saathal anjen anjuval saavil
Pirappup pirithu aaguvathu aayin
Marakkuven kollen kathalan enave."
The Thalaivan has not returned from his distant journey as promosed. The Thalaivi is in seep sorrow as usual, not taking proper food. Her health is deteriorating day by day. The Thozhi is worried about the plight of her beloved friend. She tries to console her and warns her of her ill health. But the Thalaivi tells her that her main worry is not about herself dying. She is even more worried that after her death in her next birth she might forget her beloved Thalaivan!
Nattrinai 275 is is another fantastic song. Dr Mu.Varatharajan has depicted it in a dramatic manner in his book ' Illakkiya Kaatchigal ".
There is a village by the sea side. Adjacent to it are paddy fields. Neythal flowers are seen scattered among the padi crops.. While the farmers are harvesting a neythal stalk too is cut along with the paddy stalks. While the stalks are gathered and tied into bundles. the neythal stalk too is bound in the bundle.The solitary stalk has a bud in it. The farmer carry the bundle to the winnowing ground. They thrust the sickle into the bundle. The next morning at sunrise the neythal bud blooms.
This is an ordinary scene. The common man would only see this much. But to the poet with imagination, what he witnesses is totally different.
When he witnesses the the neythal amidst the paddy he is worried. When it is cut with the paddy stalks he feels sad. He feels it has been wounded .Neithal is not meant to be cut in this manner. Instead, if it has to be plucked by the tender fingers of a damsel, our poet would not have worried this much. Unlike the coarse paddy stalks the neythal is such a tender flower with much beauty and fragrance. This fate should not have occurred to it! The farmer who did this has done it without knowing anything about this. Even after committing this crime he has not bothered to separate it from the rest.Instead he is now tying it with the paddy stalks into a bundle.The neythal which is supposed to exhibit its beauty is now going to the winnowing field.
The next day our poet returns to see the fate of the neithal The paddy stalks are like a bed for it. But would anyone sleep in that manner with the sword that has wounded? But he notices that the neythal sleeps there in comfort and that too next to the enemy's sword which has wounded it!
When the sun rises the neythal resembles a late riser who awakes yawning. Thus the neythal slowly opens its petals and blooms into a beautiful flower..But our poet does not sees it blooming as we see it. He sees it waking from a deep slumber.
Though it was severed the previous day, it has not withered, but instead it blooms afresh, like a person who wakes up late opening the mouth and yawning..Our poet is now anxious to know the fate of this innocent neythal flower. If it would have been left in the paddy field no matter how scorching maybe the sunshine, it would remain fresh. But now it is going to be scorched in the sunlight. Having slept beside the murderous weapon, this innocent neythal flower is now opening its mouth in this way, without knowing the impending danger..
Ammoovanaar, the poet who wrote this beautiful poem finally laments at the innocence of the neythal flower. In this poem the neythal gets wounded, sleeps and awakes like anyone of us. Our poet experiences all its feelings.in this subtle manner!
Giving life to the lifeless and infusing sensation to the senseless,are the inborn talents of the Sangam poets.The above Nattrinai 275 song by Ammoovanaar is a fine example of the calibre of our Sangam poets who wrote in this manner 2000 years ago!
To be continued...