January 23, 2015
The literature of classical Tamil, which later became known as Sangam literature were engraved on palm leaves and dates back to the period between 300 BC and 300 AD. These heroic poems written in ancient Tamil graphically describe life in south India under the Chera, Chola, and Pandya dynasties. Pathuppattu (The ten Idylls) an anthology of ten mid length poems is one of the oldest surviving Tamil poetry.
Malaipadukadam is one of the poems in Pathuppattu that describes the lush mountainous region and its ruling chieftain Nannan, his qualities, his wealth, and his generosity. The author of the poem is poet Perumkausikanar.
In this poem one bard tells another bard what he will see and enjoy on his way to the abode of Nannan.
"Be aware of the good and bad on the paths in his fine land which gives food abundantly without changes, has mountains, groves and forests with animals. Like unfailing skies that drop pure water drops, with a peaceful countenance he gives without keeping for himself".
“In the direction that you take there are wealthy towns with great prosperity and new status. It is the nature of the path where lightning strikes and rain falls for seeds to grow wherever they are placed, in the wide huge woodlands”.
“The mature sesame plants with many forked branches are green without the makuli disease, and are filled with seven times oil. Heavy clusters of mature millet ears are ready for harvest. They look like united trunks of young elephants engaged in fights. In all the millet stubbles, vines of sickle shaped avarai beans shed their flowers that appear like drops of curds (yogurt). On the paths where boulders are strewn like lying buffaloes, varaku grain (a type of millet) clusters forked like the fingers of those who argue are ready for reaping. On the white mountain aivanam paddy has matured with milk, the wind is whipping through them. The tall mature sugarcanes are ready to be cut for crushing in mills".
"In the forest filled with flowers from rains, beautiful clusters of bamboo seeds are mature, ready to be flattened into aval. In the fields where seeded aiyavi mustard has grown without ploughing, there are weeds. Ginger roots have grown beautifully and kavalai yams with thick creepers have matured in all the pits, big like the thighs of strong female elephants. Banana groves flourish surrounded by boulders, and on the wide boulders winds have dropped fruits of naval trees. Koovai yams are big and mature, mango trees have sweet juice in their fruits and clusters of jackfruits that have received rain appear like drums of artists".
"When you reach the prosperous small village of the forest dwellers that carry honey, tubers and flesh of small-eyed pigs using tusks of dead elephants as carrying poles you and your large clan of relatives will receive abundant food. Stay there for a day and night and leave the next day go on the path with asoka trees with red blossoms".
"The mountainous portion of the domain is better than the land described. Now hear what kind of food you will receive. When you reach a village on the mountain slope and if you tell them that you are the respected musicians of the honored king whose victories in battles cannot be handled by enemies, you will receive from them dishes with big pieces of deer meat roasted in ghee along with colorful millet rice. Along with food they will give you sweet liquor aged in bamboo pipes and toddy made from rice, which you can drink without limits. And for your hangover to go, in the morning they will serve you scattered seeds of fruits brought down by waterfalls mixed with sour-sweet tamarind fruit and buttermilk in just proportion; and while cooking it she stirs it so that fragrance of the food is felt throughout the hills. She serves it with boiled white bamboo rice. But do not stay there for many days".
"Since pigs damage the millet fields, near all the entrances on the path, there are huge rock traps. Do not go there at night; go only when the morning sun had spread its rays. When you go on the mountain path you will see a dead boar with wounds on his chest, its tusks ruined by digging, killed by a forest guard from high above with arrows. Roast it in the dry bamboo fire which burns without much smoke, remove the hair and eat it. Relax and drink clear water from the beautiful sapphire colored fresh spring. Carry the excess meat in heavy bundles. At night enter a mountain cave and treat it like it is your home".
"If you reach by night the noisy place where sounds in the forest are like those from the ocean, with many herds of sheep and goat mixed together like the different colors of rice obtained through bartering, you will be given milk and food that they cooked for themselves".
“If you see warriors with sharp arrows and curved bows tell them you are going to see Nannan, they will force feed you with abundant meat and tubers. They are the ones that will protect you, not hurt you. Such is the nature of the forest".
“At night in the villages with huts you will be served cooked bamboo rice and rice grown on high grounds along with tamarind gravy with avarai beans. In all the villages with huts you will receive huge balls of rice made with tiny perfect rice, butter and meat of white goats. You will also get dishes made with fine millet flour mixed with powdered sugar. Leave in the morning when the birds start chirping".
"In the farmlands fishermen's wives mix slices of large necked valai fish with large slices of varal fish and cook. Along with these they serve rice from mountain-like haystacks kept on mounds near the fields. They will also serve liquor made with paddy sprouts".
"At Nannan's palace you will receive fresh meat and white rice with no limits. You will enjoy this throughout your stay, as much as you want. He will give you perfect clothing, and tall chariots that run like flowing water, large herds of cattle, and horses with tufts decorated with gold jewels. He fills the hands of poets who have nothing with his large hands".
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Champakalakshmi R. Trade, ideology and Urbanization South India 300 BC to 1300 AD Oxford University Press India 1996.
Chellaiah, J.V. Pattuppattu: Ten Idylls, Translated into English Verse. Colombo General Publishers 1975
Herbert, Vaidehi. Pathuppattu. Digital Maxim LLC. 2013
Mukund, Kanakalatha. The Trading World of Tamil merchant: Evolution of Merchant Capitalism in the Coramandal. Orient Longman 1999.
Sastri, K.A. Nilakanta. The Cultural History of the Tamils. K.L. Mukhopadhyay 1964
Photo of Hills - rights free images from Government of Kerala Tourism Department website.