1. Sangam Poets
Two thousand years ago, the Pandyan Rulers set up a ‘Sangam’ (Academy) at Madurai for the development of Tamil literature. (This is said to be the third of its kind. Not much is known about the first two Sangams). In this Sangam, there were about 461 poets of different classes; occupations and regions, engaging themselves in research; this included numerous poetesses also. Poems composed 1, several poets (and poetesses) on various occasions on different themes were later collected - numbering 2426 in all. These deal with the culture of the people, occupations, trades, political chronicles, etc., besides imaginative exercises. Briefly, these help us to realise well all the aspects of the ancient Tamil country. The poets of this Age, classified literature into two broad divisions - ‘Aham’ (subjective) and Puram’ (objective); the first dealt with love (Sringara rasa) while the second concerned itself with other sentiments like heroism (Veera rasa). Poems were composed accordingly.
In a later period, the Sangam poems were collected together as eight anthologies - ‘Ettuttokai’; of these, 5 come under ‘Aham’, 2 under ‘Puram’ and 1 under both. The collection - ‘Paripaadal’ falls under the 3rd category, being the fifth in the anthologies. The poems have been set to music and were recited n those days as devotional songs. In fact, this work is the first of its kind - devotional music - in Tamil Nadu. This contains praises of Maha Vishnu (6 songs), Subramanya - Muruga (8 songs) and the River Vaigai (8 songs). An ancient verse says that originally there were 70 songs. We have now only about one-third of them, the rest having been lost in the flood of time. The title Paripaadal’ is explained in various ways its style is like the majestic gait of the horse (Pari=horse); it is an assorted baggage of different kinds of songs; it denotes the metre of the songs. According to Tamil literary convention, each ‘Paripaadal’ should consist of 2’ to 400 lines (lower and upper limits). We have now no more than 140 lines in any piece.
The first Tamil grammatical work Tolkaappiyam sets out the characteristics of Paripaadal verses. The name of the author of one of the 6 songs on Mahavishnu is not indicated. In regard to the rest, 2 pieces are by a single poet, the remaining three having been composed by 3 different poets. Of the 8 songs in praise of Muruga, the authorship is ascribed to 7 poets two being by the same poet. In regard to the 8 songs in praise of Vaigai, the poet’s name is missing for 1 piece; 3 are ascribed to one poet and 4 to 4 poets. The musical tune (Raga) for each piece was prescribed even initially.
Taking the 22 songs together, we have 13 different poets, the music being set by 10 others. We have now no information about the person who set the 13th song to music.
One special feature is that the poet who sang about Maha Vishnu has praised Muruga also and vice-versa; the poet who sang in praise of Muruga has sung about Vaigai also; further some poets have set to music the verses of others; and this is without distinction of Vishnu or Muruga. Thus the poets of that age had no religious prejudice; their common theme was devotion; they have given us a heritage of religious harmony. A poet bearing the Vaishnava name Kesava, has praised Muruga; one, Marutthuvan (Medicine)Nallachutanaar has set to music the songs in praise of Muruga and Vishnu. (There have been many poets bearing the Vaishnava names Kesavanaar and Achyutanaar and their compositions find a place in other anthologies as well).
2. Indian Culture
Sangam poets have established religious and cultural harmony. Tamil culture is not anything different from Indian culture, of which it forms a part. The Vaidic path is that which follows the Vedas and the derived ithihasas (epics), and dharma sastras (religious codes). This was we1l established and developed among the Tamilians in the Sangam Age. They were well-acquainted with the stories in the epics and puranas; they followed the Vedic injunctions; actuated by devotion, they worshipped the Vedic Deities and performed rituals and sacrifices as prescribed.
The Sangam poets aimed at spreading among the people what they needed by way of culture, and wrote poems and other literary works, with due regard to the customs, practices and tastes of the people. Surely it is the duty of the poets to mirror the ways of the people, in their poems! These poets, besides full proficiency in Tamil, had knowledge of Sanskrit, being leained in Vedas, Puranas, Dharma sastras and all Darsanas (Nyaya, Vedanta, Mimamsa, Sankhya, Yoga, etc.;) and all ideas were set forth in their works and spread among the people.
The development of Tamil will not be hampered by the use of Sanskrit ideas and words; on the contrary, these will take for its fuller growth. When there is a basic common culture, exchange of ideas between the two languages will only lead to mutual developments. While generally, Vedic and puranic ideas are to be found in all Sangam literature, this is specially marked in the devotional Paripaadal, as is natural. Whatever be the language, it is the order in the world, that the ideas of the Vedas, puranas, etc., should be reflected in any devotional work, as they had originated just for the purpose of spreading the path of devotion.
In the Paripaadal, - prayer to the Lord, glory of the river Vaigai and the city of Madurai, water-sports, grandeur of festiva1, the sacredness of the spots, the glory of the Deities, love plays and adornments - all these find mention. Hundreds of Sanskrit words are used. This work is confined to matters pertaining to the Pandya country Madurai, Vaigal, the adjoining Kshetras of Thirumaaliruncholai and Tirupparankunram and the Pandyan Ruler. There is no mention of the Chola and Chera regions their Rulers or Deities in the 6 songs about Mahavishnu, many Vedic ideas, puranic and ithihasa stories and the glories of the Incarnations of the Lord, are expounded. The denizens of Thirumaaliruncholai - Krishna and Balarama are praised conjointly - in fact the one is identified with the other in many places. In the background of the Deity at Thirupparankunram, 8 songs have arisen in praise of Muruga. Here also, as in the case of the Vishnu songs, ideas from the Vedas and Puranas find a place.
In the 8 songs about Vaigai, the rains, the consequent flood in the river, splendour, the joyous bathing of the people in the waters, adoration of the river as a Deity and the prayer for boons, music and dance, festivals and kindred themes are described.
We may now see in detail how Vedic and Sastric ideas and puranic stories are incorporated in his work, by the poets, with suitable modifications in consonance with the times and practices, based on other puranas.
3. Vedic Path
Vedas are four; each has 6 Angas (limbs); the Veda is everlasting, there being no human author. In fact, it was Dot committed to writing. So, it is called, “Apourusheya”. It has been preserved only through oral instruction, i.e., one teacher instructs and another listens - it is in this Continuous way of the ear that the Veda has been kept alive. Hence it is called SRUTHI (That which is heard). Everywhere, the supreme Lord is spoken of.
Brahmins learnt these themselves and instructed others - to preserve it for ever. They were called the “twice-born”. It was obligatory on their part to wear the sacred thread with 3 strands. This is the essence of all the Vedas. Sastras and Puranas - the ideas finding a place in other Sangam literature (e. g., Puranaanooru) are incorporated in the Paripaadal also - for instance In the songs and lines — 13-!7; 3-i7; 2-57; 9-12; 11-74; 3-66; 3—2113; 1-13; 3—14; 1-65; 3-11; 3-42; 2-24/25).
The Sangam poets not only observed the Vedic injunctions, but also wrote their poems on the same basis. Instances - 3 Devas and Sages being unable to praise the Lord directly began to praise Him in the Vedic way, saying. So - Song 3 - lines 1-30; The Vedas chant so; “I praise Thee with devotion in the same manner.” - Song 15 - lines 54/56. In fact all praises in this work are the essence of the Vedas and Vedanta.
There are also several examples to show that these poets desiring not the pleasures of this world sought only the happiness in the other world:
“I do not desire gold or other material object or worldly joy. I crave Thy love and grace and righteousness.”
“I desire nothing, save liberation.”
“Be graciously pleased to bestow on me, contact with Thy glorious Feet.”
“Give me the opportunity to reside at the foot of Thy hill.” (Song 5 - line 17; Songs 15. 21)
It is quite evident that the poets passionately desired to spread among the people a taste for both literature and devotion.
It is amply testified that the poets were more concerned with spiritual development and devotion, than with mere
“You show great Interest in the performance of sacrifices.”
“May I have the blessing of praising Thee, even in the next birth.”
“The entire Universe has originated from Thee.” (Song 13)
“We take refuge in Thee, with kin and friends and pray for Thy grace.”
(This indicates how the poets desired to share their spiritual joy with their friends and kin). See the closing portions of Songs 2-9, 13-15-17-18 & 21.
It is the Vaishnavite tradition of Saranagati to pray for salvation not only for oneself but also all kinsmen. (This is well brought out here).
The essence of the Upanishads- Taittiriya, Chadogya, Aitreya - about the evolution of the world from God and the elements, in order, and the final dissolution is incorporated in lines 5-19 of Song 2. By praising each Diety-Muruga or Vishnu without denigrating the other, singing the glory of each properly, the poets have left no room for religious bigotry and conflict. Thus this work is a harmonious blend of Saivam and Vaishnavism. Stressing perfect concord, the Sangam poets have projected the idea of one Supreme Being, with all Names and Forms.
The Sangam poets, fully acquainted with the 6 Darsanas (Philosophies - Shastras) have brought out their essence in this work. The Mimamsa Shastra details the several kinds of sacrifices to be undertaken for getting benefits in this world and the next, and instructions for their performance. The Vedic mantras, the sacrificial post fixed in the place of altar, and the visible Fire are all the Forms of the Lord. (Song 2 - lines 61-68).
The Brahmins chanting the Vedas performed the sacrificial rites in the prescribed manner, on the banks of the river, Vaigai. The ladies who had come to bathe, dried their wet garments there (Song 11 line 74) Lord Paramasiva accepted His due share of the sacrificial offering (Song 5 - lines 26 and 27).These are enough to show the proficiency of the poets in this Shastra.
In the Sankhya philosophy, 25 tattvas (principles) are accepted, without any separate Isvara - as expounded in the Sarikhya Karika. In song 3 - lines 77-80, the 25 principles are set forth in appropriate Tamil terms, and explained in admirable brevity. It is also clarified that Lord MahaVishnu is cognised at all times through these tattvas. This is ‘Sesvara - Sankhya’ i.e., the philosophy accepting Isvara which is an existing division. It is neither apt nor based on any authority to hold (as some scholars do) that the Kapilar the founder of the Sankhya philosophy is the same as the Sangam poet Kapilar.
In Patanjali’s Yogasutra Samaadipaada - 33 - it is stated that God can be visualised by purifying the mind through the four ‘bhavanaas’ (states) of maitri, Karunaa, mudita etc. This is set out in song 4 - lines 1-3. This way is known as ‘Chittaparikaram’.
In song 2 - line 7, the Paramaanu’ is indicated by the term ‘Karu’ (nucleus) and thus reminds us about the Nyaaya- Vaiseshika Shastra based on the principle o f the Paramaanu (the subtlest atom).
In Song 5, line 27, there is a condemnation of the atheistic Carvaaka philosophy, as being a bar to the realisation of God.
The Pancbaratra AGAMA principle of the five states of the Lord Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Haardha, and Archa is found in songs and lines 13-2&, 29; 2-20 to 28; 3-81 to 86; and song 14.
It is clear that the Sangam poets worshiped the Lord In the Shastraic way and propagated the Shastraic truths among the people.
5. Puranas and Ithihasas
Paramasiva has Pirvati as His half; He destroyed the Tripura; He is Neelakanta (Blue-throated). He has the Rishabha (Bull) for His mount; He resides in the Himalayas. He bears the Ganga in his tresses; He has three eyes such puranic ideas are embodied in Songs 1-5-6-9-l6-11.
The puranic stories about the birth of Muruga, His victory over Soorapadma, splitting of the Krouncha Mount, marriage with Valli in the Gandharva (Love) mode aid with Deivayaanai in the Vedic way, the quarrels among the two goddesses (imaginative portrayal) are found in songs 5-8-13-9-14-1O- 19-21.
Some scholars suggest that Valli and Muruga are Tamil Deities and that the marriage of Muruga and Deivayaanai represents the mixed alliance between Aryans and Tamils - This is perfectly meaningless. To hold the Lord transcending all languages and praised in each, as the exclusive Deity of a particular language - people is quite improper. The puranas speak of Valli by the name Lavali in the context of the wedding with Muruga (Subrahmanya); hence, it is not the sole concern of the Tamilians.
In Songs and lines 2-13;4-3;15-8; are described fully the regular Avataras (forms) of Vishnu - Narasimha, Vamana, Varaha and Bala Rama - Krishna - as well as the manifestations (Archaavatara). The war between the Devas and Asuras, the humbling of the pride of Garuda (Garvabbangam), the stories of the leelaas of Krishna - the destruction of the demon Kesi, Rasaleela (with the gopis), etc., are also mentioned in this context. The 33 celestials coming to see the Lord is also indicated. - All these are based on the Puranas.
Simply because the avataras of Parasurama, and Dasaratha Rama and the rest are not specified here separately, some scholars suggest that these Avataras are later additions. This is simply ridiculous; it is the way of the poets to confine themselves to their favorite Deities in each context. How can it be held that those not mentioned did not exist at all? Again, would it be possible for each and everyone to mention everything?
Some others would say that Puranas are later than the Sangam Age and hence the Sangam poets did not refer to them. For such persons, history alone will furnish the answer,
It is stated that Vishnu and other celestials came to see Muruga and that Siva and others came to see Vishnu; in this way, each Deity is glorified in its place betokening general concord. This is a remarkable feature of these poets.
6. Adaptations of Stories
The practice of modifying puranic stories to suit the times and to accord with popular tradition began In the Sangam Age itself. We may see some instances here.
In lines 27-49 of song 5, the narrative pertaining to the birth of Muruga is in general accord with the portrayal in the Valmiki Ramayana, but differs from the Mahabharata version.
In lines 4647 of song 19, Ahalya is said to have been cursed by Gautama to become a rock; this follows the version in the Padma Purana and Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa, and differs from the Valmiki’s version that Gautama cursed Ahalya to become invisible to others. Similarly in regard to the curse on Indra that he should be emasculated according to Valmiki, the popular version and other puranas are followed in line 8 of Song 9 to the effect that at first Indra got l000 marks of the genitals on his body and that this was later changed to 1000 eyes.
It is stated that the episode of Ahalya was illustrated through paintings in the temple of Muruga; this is a praiseworthy attempt to promote integration through fine arts as well.
Contrary to what is said in the Mahabharata (Anusaasana parva) it is mentioned here (lines 57-70 of Song 5) that Indra formed a peacock from a part of his own body and gave it to Muruga and that a cock and goat were presented respectively by Agni and Yama. The Mahabharata version is that the peacock, the cock and the goat were given to Muruga respectively by Garuda, Aruna, and Chandra. These changes might have been based on tradition or other puranas.
Songs 1, 2, 3, 4, 14, 11, 8, 10 (lines 8-39; 52-55) and 20 (lines. 62-63 mike it clear that people were divided even then in the 4 classes according to occupation, and their duties are also set forth.
In lines 3 1 -32 of song 7, separate mention is made of the streets where songsters and dancing ladies lived; this suggests that people of each occupation lived in separate streets.
Song and lines 11434, 140; 21-70; 17-53; 13-57, 65; and 11-92; set forth the doctrine of Karma - good arid evil in this birth are the consequences of deeds in the previous birch and this result is inescapable.
It is generally agreed that this work - Paripaadal formed a guide for the Aazhvaars and Nayanmars who came about 400 years later, to compose their devotional songs - Divya Prabandham and Thevaaram. There is no basis for refuting this view.
Scholars know fully well that Nammazhvar has, in his songs incorporated in toto, the words arid ideas found here about Thirumaliruncholal (Song 15-34, 48); this is the case with respect to some Nayanmars also, in another context.
7. People of the Sangam Age
People with spiritual learning and devotion-filled hearts were interested in the pleasures of this world also. This life is largely portrayed in the songs about the river Vaigai. As already indicated, pastimes, water sports, indulgence in dunks, relations with harlots, taking part in festivals, joyous witnessing of music and dance performances, etc., arc detailed here, giving us a complete picture of the state of mind of the populace.
Muruga was prayed to for various boons, by women - marriage without delay (in the case of virgins), safe return of the husband, after winning laurels in the batt1efield etc. (8 - lines 103, 108); at the same time, the River Deity was asked to bestow perpetual youth, without giving room for taunt of having grown old at any time and unfading love by the husband (11 -line 115, 121).
Acquaintance of men with harlots, drinking and like evils are mentioned in this work, as in other Sangam works; but no mention is made here of flesh-eating. Possibly, the poets did not want to tarnish a devotional work by such mention!
In song 17 - lines 1-8, it is indicated that the goats meant for sacrifice were tied to the Kadamba post facing the Deity Muruga, by the Pujaris, but the actual sacrifice is not nientioned at all; apparenily the poets thought that a sacred work should not be blemished that way. It was the general practice in those days to take an oath in the name of a Deity and a person worthy of equal regard. In song 8-lines 47 a person says ‘I swear by the name of the Tiruparankundram hilly region, the adjoining flower-garden and the Brahmins (specified), I speak the truth’. This would show that Brahmins were held in high regard, almost like Deities.
He has presented in full, this valuable work of devotion, with the original Tamil text and translation in Sanskrit. He has deliberately adopted a simple Sanskrit style, at the risk of grammatical lapses, in order to make it easily understood by every one. It is on the basis of a false notion that Tamil culture is different from Indian culture that conflicts of North versus South have sprouted in our land. This can end, only if it is realised that our culture is one and indivisible. He believes that his translation will serve this purpose and promote national integration.
As Sanskrit words are to be found, even to the extent of 90 per cent in world languages, it is proper, that this translation is in the world language of Sanskrit. Sriramadesikan is sure that all people in India, speaking their own language will be enabled through his translation to find common ideas prevailing everywhere and become united in their hearts.
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