Post 5: The Analysis Of The Tolkappiyam
Hello everyone and welcome back, after a 1-week hiatus, to “Divinity through Tamil History”. I am sorry for the delayed posts as last week, I had a surprise trip to Boston and Chicago and could not post during that time. However, I am back and am ready to post all of them. During week 3, I finished reading the Tolkappiyam and compared the iconography, or at least the descriptions of the gods to their counterparts mentions in the Puranas as well as in later Indian Art. So without further ado, let’s get into the….
Context (heh, you thought was gonna do an analysis first):
Tolkappiyam is an ancient Tamil text and is regarded as one of the oldest pieces of Tamil literature that still survives to this day. The author is unknown, though it is traditionally believed that the author is Tolkappiyar, a disciple of the mystical Hindu sage, Agastya, who is said to have created Tamil. The book’s date is heavily debated, but many agree that it comes from the 2nd Sangam Period, which represents ⅓ of the Sangam Age. (F.Y.I.: The Sangam Age is said to be the period right after the “pre-history” of the Tamil region and people.)
The text itself is a grammar book…so it describes how and when Tamil words should be used in sentences. I know what you are probably thinking, “How and why does a grammar book have references to the deities of the Dravidian religion?”. Well, there are many reasons for this, one being that the Tamil language itself was believed to have been taught by the God Ceyon, who we now know as Murugan or Karthikeya. Another reason is that the Tamil language contains words used specifically in the praise of deities, which is highlighted in this text. This text is divided into three sections, Ezhuttadikaram, Solladikaram, and Poruladikaram. The first section, the Ezhuttadikaram, deals with the structure of Tamil words, such as the syllables, consonants, vowels, etc. The next section, the Solladikaram, emphasizes the use of the Tamil language in rhetoric, poetry, etc. It provides guidance on how to structure the Tamil language to create effective poetry, etc. The last section, the Poruladikaram, describes how to use different Tamil words in which situation. In other words, it describes how one can utilize the Tamil language in daily situations, such as politics, worship, and even in love. Now let’s finally get into….
The text I used was called, Tolkappiyam in English translated by Dr.V. Murugan which you can find on the Internet Archive. As I read the text, there are various references to different Gods. But the Gods I focused on are Malon, Korravai, and Ceyon. One of the main mentions of these Gods is their ownership over different kinds of lands. This part is in the third section of the Tolkappiyam and the text is translated like this.
- The Landscape Divison
The forest tract which Mayon tends,
The hilly tract which Ceyon tends,
The fertile cultivable tract which Ventan tends,
And the littoral tract which Varunan tends
Are known to be
Mullai, kurinchi, marutam, and neytal respectively.
While in this version there is no reference to Korravai and the land she presides over, famous scholars like Kamil Zvelebil who translated the Tolkappiyama and wrote the book, “The Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India” agree that Korravai presides over the desert region called Palai.
Besides this, we do see references to some of these Gods’ individual characteristics. With the Goddess Korravai, she is referenced again in the third section of the text
Extolling the clan of warriors rooted in valour,
And worshipping Korravai the Goddess of Victory
Here we establish that not only does she govern the dry and harsh regions, Pallai, but is the giver of victory to those who pray to her. In a way, her powers are similar to the Pan-Indian Goddess Durga. In Puranas like the Devi Mahatmyam and the Devi Bhagavath Purana, which scholars predict have been written around the 5th century and the 9th century C.E. respectively, Durga is described as a beautiful yet vicious Goddess who when prayed to provides victory over enemies, hence why her name itself means invincible, and sometimes she is given the named Vijaya (victorious) and Jaya Durga (Victorious Durga). Her viscousness and terrifying form may be evidence as to why her Tamil counterpart, Korravai, presides over the dangerous and harsh region, Palai. However, the descriptions of the Goddess are quite vague. We just see what she presides over, victory and a region of land. The Goddess Durga is famous for killing the bull demon named Mahishasura, hence called Mahishasuramardini. She is famous for riding a lion, hence she is called Simhavahini. She is also known for having multiple hands, varying from 8, 10, or even 18 hands, hence she is called Ashtabhuja, Dasabhuja, and Ashta-dasa bhuja. However, based on the lines of the Tolkappiyam, Korravai resembles that of the terrifying Tamil Mother goddess, Amman, which we talked about in the last post. Amman’s scary demeanor is similar to the role Korravai takes as Goddess of the Palai region and her victorious nature is similar to Amman’s superiority and regal nature.
For the God Malon/Mayon, another reference to him takes place in Poruladikaram. In this section, the verse goes like this.
- The Ramifications of the Vetci Theme
Praising the protective reign of the monarch
Likening it to the protection of God Mayon
Whose complexion the bilberry flower resembles;
Here it is certain of three things. One that of the forests, Mayon reigns. Two, Mayon is seen as the god of protection, of sustaining life, or at least his devotees. And lastly, his complexion mirrors that of a bilberry fruit. Now only two things mimic the Pan-Indian God, Vishnu/Krishna. One is that he is known as the protector of the universe. And secondly, there are many Hindu stories of Vishnu/Krishna being associated with the forest, especially since Krishna lived his childhood days as a cowherd, where he protected the cows in the deep forests. But one thing that does not add up is the description of the God Mayon having the complexion of the bilberry flower. Bilberry flowers are bell-shaped flowers that are red in color. This is different than how Puranas like the Bhagavath Purana describe him. In fact, in Vishnu/Krishna’s famous praise…
Shaanta-[A]akaaram Bhujaga-Shayanam Padma-Naabham Sure[a-Ii]sham
Vishva-[A]adhaaram Gagana-Sadrsham Megha-Varnnam Shubha-Anggam |
Lakssmii-Kaantam Kamala-Nayanam Yogibhir-Dhyaana-Gamyam Vande Vissnnum Bhava-Bhaya-Haram Sarva-Lokai[a-E]ka-Naatham ||
He is described as “Megha-Varnnam Shubha-Anggam” which means, “he who has the form of a dark cloud that radiates with auspiciousness”. Now, a dark cloud does not have the same color as a red bilberry flower. So, we know that Mayon is red in color, but Vishnu/Krishna is dark in color. Could this be the evidence of a pre-Hindu God of Protection, one who is red and earthy in color rather than dark and infinite?
For the God Ceyon, we see that his domain resides in the mountains. In the Tolkappiyam, Ceyon is described as the youthful God. And according to P.S. Subrahmanya Sastri, M.A., Ph.D. in his translation of the Tolkappiyam, the word Ceyon itself shows two descriptions of the God. One, that he is youthful, and that he is red in color. Thus he is the red-child God who resides in the mountains. The mountains are especially important to Murgan, the pan-Indian counterpart of Ceyon. In fact, in Tamil Nadu, there are six holy temples placed in six of Tamil Nadu’s mountains. These six temples are known as the “Arai Padai Veedu” or the six abodes of Murugan. One of these temples is where Murgan marries the mountain girl named Valli and another mountain is where he resides with both his wives, the celestial wife Devasena and mountain-dweller Valli. These mountains are said to be the collective home of Murugan himself. However, these mountains, these domains, are not mentioned in any Purana which are the sources of the stories related to the Gods. Murugan or his Pan-Indian name Karthikeya is mentioned as a Golden man, the son of Shiva, who kills the demons Tarakasura and works as the army general of the God-Kng Indra. The Skanda Purana, the Purana that praises Karthikeya never mentions the God ruling from his six mountains. And it never mentions the existence of his mountain wife, only his wife, the celestial daughter of Indra, Devasena. So clearly there is a difference between Ceyon, his counterpart Murugan, and the Pan-Indian God Karthikeya.
The Stone Vel from the Murugan Temple, Saluvankuppam
A Pahari-style miniature, showing Shiva and his wife Parvati, along with their sons, the elephant-headed God Ganesha and the six-headed (here only shown with three heads) God Karthikeya
Thus so far, we have examined the similarities and differences between the pairs, Ceyon with Karthikeya, Mayon and Vishnu/Krishna, and Korravai and Durga through the use of the literal texts. However, in art form, it is hard to compare. And the reason why all comes back to the dating of the Sangam Age. The Sangam age has had a total of three periods, yet the last one ended around the 3rd century. However, the art structures that survive from the Sangam age, are temples and old bricks that formed the ancient temples. The oldest Tamil temple which dates back to the Sangam era is the Murugan Temple, Saluvankuppam. And while there is not that much artwork left in the temple, what does remain is a small stone spear or a vel, an item that is famously carried by Murugan. Due to the fact that this is a Murugan temple, we can be sure to say that this temple was in fact dedicated to Ceyon. And thus we know that n the iconography of Ceyon, we know he holds a spear. This is different from the existing North Indian miniatures of God, where he holds many things, other than his spear. Take for instance the image shown above. Karthikeya is shown holding a cup and a bow and arrow, but there is no spear shown.
This has been the analysis of the Tolkappiyam. Tune in next time as I post the analysis of the next book, the Ettuttokai, on “Divinity through Tamil History” again. —————————————————————————————————————————