Post 6: Analysis Of The Ettuttokai
Hello everyone and welcome back to another post on “Divinity through Tamil History”. I am your host, Aaron Thomas, and for today, I will go through a deep analysis of the ancient Tamil book, the Ettuttokai. First I will give the audience (that’s yall) context about the book. Then, I will go through a deep analysis of the Gods referenced in the book, while comparing it to the various Puranas. Then finally I will compare the Tamil art that existed around the same time as the book to the North Indian miniatures, such as the Pahari-style, and Pala sculptures. Now, let’s get to it.
The Ettuttokai is an ancient anthology of books. Its literal meaning is the “eight anthologies” or the “eight literatures”. These eight kinds of literature are, Ainkurunuru, Akananuru, Purananuru, Kalittokai, Kuruntokai, Natrinai, Paripatal, and Pathitrupathu. These books are all written during the Sangam age but at different times. For example, the Ainkurunuru is said to have been dated from around the 1st century to the 3rd century C.E., while the Paripatal is dated to be around the 3rd or 4th century C.E. These books all contain different sets of poems and cover various topics such as valor, sacrifice, love, betrayal, and bhakti (devotion) towards the deities. The Ainkurunuru (dated from 1st-century B.C.E -2nd century C.E.) focuses on the exploits of the unnamed hero and heroine through different modes which are personified as the different regions which we discussed in the last post. The Akananuru (2nd-century C.E.-5th century C.E. with some dating back to 1st-century B.C.E) is another collection of love poems. The Purananuru (200 C.E.-500 C.E. with some dating back to 100 B.C.E) is a collection of poems that are dedicated to the Sangam age’s politics, social life, and war. The Kalittokai (3rd century C.E.-…) focuses on love and eroticism while highlighting the theatre and plays from the Sangam Age. The Kuruntokai (composed around 1st century C.E.-3rd century C.E.) is again, another collection of love poems. The Natrnai (collected around 1st-century C.E.-3rd century C.E.) elaborates more about love while also talking about war and social life. The Paripatal (composed around 3rd-century C.E.-4th century C.E.) praises the Gods, Murugan, and Mayon while also praising the river Vayai. And finally, the Pathitrupathu (dated around 2nd-century C.E.-5th century C.E.) focuses on war and politics by focusing on the Chera Kings, Kings that rule around the modern state Kerala. Now with context out of the way, let’s shift to the analysis of the descriptions of the Gods Mayon and Ceyon.
There were two texts that I used to provide as evidence for my analysis. The first one is Tamil Poetry Through the Ages-Ettuttokai: The Eight Anthologies by Dr.Shu Hikosaka and Dr. G. John Samuel along with the help of Prof. S.M.Ponniah, Dr. J.Parthasarathi, and M.Mathialagan and published by the Institue of Asian Studies. I found a copy of this book through Internet Archive (literally a lifesaver). However, the only problem I have with this book is that it only takes a few poems from each section rather than the entirety of each section, especially for the Paripatal which sheds a ton of focus on deities. So to counteract this, I also bought a copy of the Paripatal again by Dr.Shu Hikosaka and Dr. G. John Samuel. Now let’s focus on the Gods referenced throughout the Ettuttokai. There are Gods, such as Shiva and his wife, Uma/Parvati, who are also mentioned, but let us focus on Mayon and Ceyon (Korravai sadly is not mentioned in both books).
With Ceyon/Murugan, we see an abundant number of references. In the Ettuttokai, we see him being invoked by the author of the Kuruntokai (1st-century C.E.-3rd century C.E.), which goes like this …
In praise of Murukan.
The great Lord Whose beauteous feet Resemble the red lotus;
Whose coral-red form,
Shines bright with robes
Matching the crimson kunri seed Who bears the long
Spear, reddened by its splitting up
The middle of the mount
Into two; whose
Fine flag has the emblem
Of the rooster-it is
Under His protection that
This world enjoys
Here we see references to his red skin, which was established even in the Tolkappiyam, as well as a reference to his spear/vel which we saw at the Murugan temple shown in the last post. What is new, however, is the reference to him splitting the mountain as well as having a flag with a rooster emblem. These now change his iconography from a youthful god, to a protective or a war god. We also see that there are more stories about Ceyon/Murgan, unlike the vague description we got of him from the Tolkappiyam. The story of the rooster emblem and the “destruction of the mountain” is still associated with the Karthikeya people’s worship today. Another reference to Murgan/Ceyon is from the Pathitrupathu (2nd-century C.E.-5th century C.E.) in which it says…
The victorious Prince (Murukan) of mighty fame
And wrathful severity, rode on his elephant
And hewed down the base of the tree
Belonging to Curapatuman who gave protection
To the demons feared by men.
This poem itself is dedicated to King Imayavarampan and his victory over his enemies. And to emphasize this, the author compares the King to the victorious God of War, Ceyon/Murugan. Like the other poem, this poem sheds light on a new story about Murugan. The story referenced here is the final showdown between Murugan/Ceyon and the Asura King Surapdaman (spelled in the poem as Curapatuman). The demon king, after realizing that Murgan was too powerful, decided to attack the young god through magic, He shapeshifted into different things, all of which Murgan defeated. Finally, in order to flee, Surapadman turns into a mango tree inside a mango grove, hoping to confuse Muruga. Muruga sees his trick, and with rage, splits the tree in half, killing the demon king. This story is still believed by Tamil and other South Indian Hindus today. Thus, this poem provides proof that at this point in time, Murugan can be seen as the red war God holding a spear and a flag and destroyer of evil. Comparing Ceyon from the Tolkappiyam to the Ettutokai, one can see that now Ceyon/Murugan has depth in his lore. One thing to note is that as we delve into these poems, we as readers unlock a new chapter on Ceyon/ Murugan’s life. However, there is an important question to ask, is this story being influenced by Pan-Indian Hinduism, or vice versa? Here is why it is important to ask this question. As of now, none of the descriptions of Muruga/Ceyyon fit with the story of Karthikeya as told in the Skanda Purana. In the Skanda Purana, he is addressed as the golden-hued, six-headed, 12-handed God sitting on a peacock whose sole purpose is to defeat the demon King Tarakasura and later become the chief general of the God Indra’s army. None of that description agrees with Ceyon/Murugan’s lore, a red-skinned youth who holds a spear, dwells on mountains, and destroyed a mountain and a mango tree. However that all changes when one reads the Paripatal (3rd-century C.E.-4th century C.E.). In the Paripatal, the first poem dedicated to Ceyyon/Murugan describes his birth, which is similar to the story of Karthikeya’s birth in the Skanda Purana. It references the birth of Karthikeya from the semen of Shiva during his union with Uma devi, how the semen reached the wives of six sages, and how the six babies born from the wives merged into one frame (where he has six heads and 12 arms). This birth is also retold in the Skanda Purana, which is dated to around the 8th century C.E. and comes way after the Paripattal is penned. The Paripattal stays true to the form of Ceyyon in that he is red, sports a powerful spear/vel, and defeats the Asura king by splitting the mango tree. So does Karthikeya influence Ceyyon or vice versa?
Now let us shift the talk from Murugan to Mayon/Thirumal. The first reference we see to Mayon in the Ettuttokai comes from the Natrnai (1st-century C.E.-3rd century C.E.). Mayon here is invoked by the author and thus is the first poem that comes from Natrnai. The poem goes as this…
In praise of Tirumal.
He is the Primal God
Acclaimed by the Vedas,
So the wise say: the Lord Of the Cakra resplendent
In its conquest of all evils;
He has the great earth
As His feet,
The sea of pure waters
As His wearing robe,
The spreading sky
As His body,
As His Hands,
And the cool-rayed moon and sun
As His eyes;
He inheres in all creation
And contains within him
All that exists.
Here we see an instant change in the description of Mayon from the Tolkappiyam to the Ettuttokai. The Tolkappiyam describes him as a God of the forests who is red in color. Here, he is dark and dwells in the entirety of creation. And unlike the Tolkappiyam, which generally gave a vague description of the God, here we see a more detailed image of Mayon/Thirumal, as the dark expansive God who conquers evil through his weapon, the Chakra (a sharp wheel). What is also different and especially important is the reference to the Vedas. The Tolkappiyam had no mention of the Vedas, making it preach an independent religion than Pan-Hinduism. Now however, we see that Vedas are integrating into the Tamil religion and now, influencing how they perceived their Gods, from regional Gods to all-pervading Gods. For the rest of the Ettuttokai, we see him being referenced time and again for his dark appearance, or his deadly weapon, the Chakra. This however changes when we reach the Paripatal, and we see extensive poems dedicated to Mayon.
The first poem, after the invocatory poem, is dedicated to Mayon/Malon under the name Thirumal (which may be an adaption of his name Malon). This poem shows a distinct shift from the iconography of Malon in the Tolkappiyam. The poem references how the God lies down on the snake bed, Adi Sesha, and how his wife, the Goddess Lakshmi, sits on his chest, earning him the Sanskrit name Srinivasa (the abode of Sri/Lakshmi). It also references his vehicle, the King of Birds, Garuda. The next poem again references him as what is said above but also describes his various incarnations/avatars, such as Krishna, Balarama, and even the boar-headed incarnation Varaha. These references parallel the Pan-Indian God, Vishnu, and share similarities with the iconography of Vishnu as described in Purans like the Bhagavatha Purana, which emphasizes his all-pervasiveness, his various incarnations, and his iconography as the dark God who lilies down on a snake-bed with his wife. However, these references share little to no similarity to the forest-dwelling red god, Mayon. There seems to be a distinct change in the iconography of Malon. And what is most peculiar is that, while for Murugan/Ceyon, there seems to be a slow transition from the Tolkappiyam Ceyon to the Murugan/Karthikeya worshipped today, there seems to be no such transition for Malon. In fact, it seems like he goes from Malon and then straight to Vishnu. Does this mean that Malon was the first God to be influenced by Vedic Hinduism? Could be a possibility. But one thing is for sure, we see that during the Third Period of the Sangam Age, there is a transition of the Gods, some more drastic than others.
This week we won’t be comparing any art forms because the source, Ettuttokai, takes place in the Sangam Era. And we have discussed and compared the Sangam art to North Indian miniature styles already. So with all of that, I shall depart. This has been another episode of, “Divinity through Tamil History”, and tune in next time when I analyze the next ancient text, the Pattupattu or the Ten Idyls. —————————————————————————————————————————–