Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Glory of Tamil Literature...Part ...5

The Beauty of Kurunthogai by Dr.G.Johnson.
Literature is a record of a nation's success and failure, art
and civilisation, peoples's passions and hatreds and in a way its
history. History and literature are related very closely. Reading
literature with a background knowledge of the people's history makes
it more meaningful.Hence with this in mind I have given a brief
outline of the history of Tamil Nadu in the first episode of this
Furthermore, a knowledge of the religious background of the
people is equally essential. In this respect, we should know about the
Tamil religions Saivam, Vainavam, Samanam and Boutham. We shall dwell
on this subject of Tamil religions later on in this series.
It is a fact that Tamil literature is closely associated
with religion of that period till the 19th century. This is an unique
feature of Indian Literature. The popular English philosopher Haldane
has pointed out that literature and philosophy are knit together in
Indian literature . It is clear that religion has played a major role
in the origin and flourishing of literature. During the Sangam period
there has been no Aryan influence on Tamil literature and the poets
were careful in not using Sanscrit words in their poems. Most works
were started by the first poem glorifying or paying tribute to God.
Likewise the first poem of Kurunthogai was attributed to Lord Muruga
who was celebrated as the Tamil God in those ancient days.
It is a sad fact that there is no proper written history of
Tamil Nadu of the the ancient days,. Much of the history has to be
deduced from the works of our poets who are not histoirians. But they
have given ample information on the kings, wars, the lands conquered
and the governance of their lands.Hence Tamil literature of the Sangam
period helps us to understand history, culture, civilisation, beliefs,
worships and habits of ancient Tamilians.
Likewise from the love poems of Kurunthogai too we are able to learn
the love and domestic life of the people of Sangam days. Here are a
few examples which may be of interest to our readers.
From the poems of Kurunthogai ( numbered accordingly ), we
can have a glimpse of their beliefs and practices:
1. They believed in dreams ( 30 )
2. When the crow cries, there will be a visitor ( 210 ).
3. They believed in ghosts ( 161, 263, 180 ).
4. A man's life will be prosperous after his marriage ( 295 ).
5. They caught fish with fishing rods ( 54 ). and nets ( 174 ).
6. Women used mud to rub hair during bath ( 113 ).
7. They invited guests into the house and provided feasts ( 118 ).
8. The elders and the wise went to arrange marriages ( 146 ),
9. Farmers sowed seeds kept in a baskets made of palm leaves. ( 155 ).
10. Traders practiced bartering such as milk for food stuff
( 221 ) and salt for padi ( 269 ).
11. They worshipped the moon ( 178, 307 ).
12. They calculated time by observing the stars ( 261 ).
13. Monkeys which frequent the fruit trees were caught by
nets ( 342 ).
14. Water was kept hot in specially made thermo bronze vessels ( 277 )
15. Pregnant girls liked eating sour tamarind ( 287 ).
16. Common folks made cotten wigs and lit lamps ( 353 )
17. Women pounded black gram with blunt rounded wooden clubs ( 384 ).
18. Girls enjoyed playing hand ball games ( 396 ).
19. During evenings girls lit lamps using ghee ( 398 ).
20. The Thalaivi ( heroine ) whose lover has gone to a far
off land would count the days by ticking on the wall ( 358 )
21. They believed that Lord Muruga would punish the wicked ( 87 ).
22. The heavens where the Gods dwelled give bliss and
happiness.( 87 ).
The poets of Kurunthogai revelled in beautiful and
meaningful imaginations and used many such metaphors wherever
The first poem is attributted to Lord Muruga.
" Thamarai puraiyum kaamar sevadi,
Pavazhathu anna meni, thigazholi,
Kundri eikum udukai, kundrin
Nenjupaga erintha anjudar neduvel,
Sevelang kodiyonkaapa,
Ema vaigal eithinraal ulage. "
Lord Muruga is described as follows:
His feet resembles the beautiful lotus flower. His
complexion is that of amethyst ( pavazham ) and his dress resembles
the redness of kundrimani. His weapon is the vel and his flag depicts
the cock ( seval ).
Tamils took pride in naming Lord Muruga as " Tamil Kadavul
" ( Tamil Deity ). Their love for this particular deity is high and He
is the most widely worshipped God in Tamil nadu
Visual imagery is an essential aspect of Kurunthogai poems.
Though each poem comprises of only about eight verses, the subject
could be elaborated into a beautiful drama with the associated
landscapes! Such is the brilliant quality of our Sangam poets in their
choice of words and the brevity of their poems!
Kurunthogai poem 7 is an excellent example of love, courage and drama.
" Villon kaalana kazhale thodiyol
mel adi melavum silambe nallor
yaar kol? alliyarthaame aariyar
kayiru aadu paraiyin kaal porak kalangi
vaagai ven nettru olikkum
vey payil azhuvam muniyore ". This was written by
Perumpatumanar. It is supposed to have been said by a passer-by on a
desert path in the Paalai land which is rough and barren. The poet has
incorporated much message and meaning in these six lines.
A.K.Ramanujan has attempted to translate this poem as follows:
" 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 wind beat
upon the vakai trees
and make the white seedpods rattle
like drums of 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. "
This lengthy translation is proof of the difficulty
encountered in translating Sangam poems which are known for their
brevity with appropriate words.
This poem has a story behind it. A passer-by sees a young
couple on a path among bamboo groves. The youngster wears a warrior's
band on his ankle and carries a bow, which means he is a brave
warrior. The girl wears a virgin's anklet on her tender foot
indicating she is not yet married. Most probably they are lovers
eloping, as their parents did not agree for their marriage. The
warrior is determined to fight anyone who may intrude in their love.
The poet then goes on to describe the dry seedpods of the vagai trees
which are rattling in the wind resembling the sound of drums for the
Aryan acrobats who dance on tight ropes. Their journey is thus abound
with many risks which are compared to walking on tight ropes! Thus the
passer-by pities as they appear to be honest lovers!
From this beautiful poem we can infer that the youngster is
a courageous warrior and he has been presented with the warrior's band
foir his valour in battle. Similarly we understand that virgin girls
used to wear the virgin's anklet . This will be removed ceremonially
during their marriage. This is a different form of anklet from
Kannaki's anklet in Silappathikaaram.Besides the arranged marriages by
the family elders, elopement of lovers too was a common feature. The
girls in love trusted their lovers and were prepared to run away with
them to far off places. The mode of travel for the common folks was by
walking. There were Aryan actrobats who walked on tight ropes to the
sound of beating drums. These were held in villages as a form of
entertainment like the circus. The landscape of the arid land of
Paalai with the bamboo groves and vagai trees too are aptly portrayed
in this poem.
Kurunthogai abounds with many more such information on
Tamils during the Sangam period. It is a rich treasure of ancient
Tamil culture which has been our proud heritage!
To be continued

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