20 February 2011

Pathitruppathu (பதிற்றுப்பத்து)

Introduction: Literary classics abound in all languages of the word and it is indeed a pleasure to read them and appreciate how our ancestors viewed life and how every civilization differed from each other in viewing at the aims and pursuits of life in this world. The objective here is to present once a week, the best poem or sloka or verse or song I have read among the different literary works of the world. "யான் பெற்ற இன்பம் பெருக இவ்வையகம்" என்று திருமூலர் திருமந்திரத்தில் கூறியதுபோல, let everyone attain the bliss I have received in reading them.

எட்டுத்தொகை என்று அழைக்கப்படும் சங்க இலக்கிய நூல்களில் நாம் கடைசியாக இந்தவாரத்தில் எடுத்துக்கொள்ளவிருக்கும் நூல் "பதிற்றுப்பத்து". பத்துப் பத்துப் பாடல்களாக பத்து அத்தியாயங்களில் வருவதால் இதற்கு "பதிற்றுப்பற்று" (அதாவது, பத்துப்பத்து) என்ற பெயர் வந்தது.

இது புறநானூறைப்போல முழுவதுமாக "புறத்திணை"ப் பாடல்களைக்கொண்டது. It has no love songs as we find in Akananooru, Natrinai, Kurunthogai or Kalithogai. While in Purananooru we find poems praising all the Chola, Chera and Pandiya Kings (besides many other குறுநிலமன்னர்கள்), Pathitruppathu is devoted entirely to the Chera kings. ஐந்து முதல் 57 அடி வரையுடைய பாடல்களைக் கொண்ட இந்நூல் மொத்தம் 3,180 வரிகளைக்கொண்டது. முதல்பத்தும் இறுதிப்பத்தும் நமக்கு கிடைக்கவில்லை. இவை அழிந்துபோய்விட்டன. However, முதல்பத்தையும் பத்தாம்பத்தையும் சார்ந்த பாடல்கள் சில பழைய உரைகளிலிருந்தும், தொகை நூல்களிலிருந்தும் தெரிய வருகின்றன

பதிற்றுப்பத்து and the other work called பத்துப்பாட்டு (we will visit this work next week) are unique in one way. They have long, long and long sentences. There are no full-stops anywhere in between. In fact Sangam works in general are like this, but fortunately size of the poems in other எட்டுத்தொகை works like Kurunthogai, Aikurunooru, Purananooru and Akananooru are small and therefore the end comes faster. In other words, larger the size of the poems, longer the sentences. 

Only recently did I manage to procure an English translation of this work. I stumbled upon A.V. Subramanian’s translation, published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook Society, from Sahitya Akademi library in New Delhi.  Like all Sangam anthologies, Patitruppathu also has many literary marvels to boast off. Some of these have been enumerated below.

1) Elephants and bees

Varadarajaiyer (1945) lists more than 50 names for the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Tamil. One of these names is மதமா (mathamā) which means “animal of musth”. Yes, the living representatives of the Family Elephantidae are the only group of animals known to come to musth regularly. To put in other way, there is no other mathamā apart from the elephants. Musth (மதம்) is an annual physiological phenomenon in male elephants characterized by aggression, secretion from temporal glands and increased sexual activity. Grown up male elephants in musth are known to wander long distances in search of females in oestrous. Though it is perceived that musth helps females to recognize the breeding bulls in the group (just like how oestrous females communicate their status to males), it is only during the last 10-15 years that the actual mechanism of function of temporal glands and its secretion was established. Rasmussen et al (2002) showed that the secretion from temporal glands acts as a pheromone in male elephants which conveys the message of its status to other elephants including males. But why does it attract insects like bees, to the extent of them swarming around it? Rasmussen and her colleagues found out that the constituent of the musth fluid is nothing but frontalin, a well studied pheromone in insects (Rasmussen et al, 1996). They analyzed the musth secretions from young bull elephants and found compounds known from bee honey and bee pheromones!  This explains why bees and other insects get attracted towards the musth secretion of males. Interestingly, only the secretions of young bulls emanate such a sweet honey like odour, whereas that of adult bulls is more pungent as it contains more frontalin. Research has also shown that male elephants take no note of such juvenile males coming to musth as they do not feel threatened (*). Elephant owners and keepers in Tamil Nadu recognize the musth of young elephants as “பால் மதம்” (Literally ‘Milk musth’; to be more precise ‘Juvenile musth’). It is pertinent to bring here this poem from Kālidāsa’s Raghuvamsam which speaks about ordinary elephants being frightened by adults in musth!

प्रायः प्रतापभग्नत्वादरीणान् तस्य दुर्लभः।
रणो गन्धद्विपस्येव गन्धभिन्नान्यदन्तिनः॥ १७-७०

There was a poor prospect of war for him in consequence of the enemies having been destroyed by his valour just as in the case of mada-gaja, ichor-secreting elephant in rut, which has frightened away other ordinary elephants just by the smell of his ichor.
[Raghuvamsam, 17-70]

Literary works in India abound with references on bees getting attracted to the ichor (temporal gland secretion) of musth elephants. Among literatures in Tamil, Akanānūru and Paditruppathu has the maximum number of references to this phenomenon. Many Sangam poems mention of the unruly musth elephants proving to be a nemesis for the mahouts (Maduraikkānchi, Lines 381- 390; Akam 336; Puram, 13). Controlling a musth elephant is a major task in captive elephant management. Because they get unruly and unmanageable, many elephant owners in northern Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Jaipur tend to avoid keeping tuskers and makhanās (tuskless males: மோழை in Tamil) in their collection. The problem gets compounded when they come to musth during the crowded festival occasions like a Thrissur pooram or Sonpur Mela. During the Sangam age, one of the most common congregations of captive elephants is during war between kingdoms and chieftains.  The following one from Patitruppathu records the practice of letting a cow elephant to tame the rogue.  

செல்சமம் தொலைத்தவினைநவில் யானை
கடாஅம் வார்ந்து கடும்சினம் பொத்தி       (5)
வண்டுபடு சென்னிய பிடிபுணர்ந்(து) இயல

These elephants exuding rut which draws bees and filled with rage
Do pose a problem to their keepers who send their cow elephants
To tame the rogues which mate with them;
But still untamed, they rage about, as reckless giants, in the army camp. 
(Patitruppathu, 82) [Translator: A.V. Subramanian]

Majority of the references to elephants in Indian literatures are on tuskers and there too the poets seem to take great pride in presenting them in full musth, the ichor sometimes dribbling into their mouth. For them, an elephant has to be a tusker and that too in full musth.
A tusker in Corbett Tiger Reserve with ichor
dribbling into mouth (Photo: Sumanta & Tenzin)
வரிஞிமிறு ஆர்க்கும், வாய்புகு கடாஅத்துப்
பொறிநுதற் பொலிந்த வயக்களிற்று ஒருத்தல்
(Lines 3-4)
A mighty tusker, which has a beautifully dotted forehead
And which is strong enough to protect its kin,
And whose ichor buzzed by striped-bees
Flows into its own mouth. (Akananuru 78)

Seventeenth century medieval Sānskrit poet Panditarāja Jagannātha, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, calls the musth secretion as 'madajāla' (Asaphavilāsa). Other Sangam works that mention this phenomenon of bees getting attracted to musth are Puranānūru (poems 22, 93), Panchatantra (Book IIII), Pathitruppathu (12), Nitisāra (I.45), Bihāri Sattasai (388), Kannassa Rāmāyanam (Bālakanda, 220), Jaina Sūtras (Part II - SBE22), Raghuvamsa (at least 8 references, e.g. Canto VI.7), Dharmasarmabhyudaya (II.47), Subhashitavali and many other works. Reproduced below are two of these references from Bihāri’s Sattasai in Hindi and Kalidāsa’s Raghuvamsa in Sānskrit:

The elephant is coming
With his slow and majestic gait,
The juice is oozing out of his neck,
And, like the jiggling of bells,
The black bees are buzzing around him.
(Bihari-Sattasai 338)
[Translator:  Satyadev Choudhary]
Leaving the other kings,
The eyes of the citizens
Were now turned on Raghu’s son
As black-bees, seated on flowers,
Fly off to the temples of wild elephants
Seated with temporal juice.
(Raghuvamsam, Canto VI.7)

The word for ‘bee’ used in Tamil poems is largely njimiru (ஞிமிறு) (Akam: 59, 78, 207; Patiruppathu 12, Puram 22, 93), and sometimes vandu (வண்டு) (Patitruppathu 82). It is possible that all other insects including flies are attracted towards the musth fluid, just like how insects in general are attracted towards light. The video clipping below, taken in 2010 from Pepsu of Ripu-Chirang Forest Reserve near Kokrajhar in Assam, shows clearly a swarm of insects following a wild elephant in musth. The video was shot though camera traps deployed by Cicada Bellwether Ltd. as part of Wildlife Trust of India's Clouded Leopard Rehabilitation Project.


A befitting poem to describe this scene comes from the Malayalam work Kannassa Rāmāyanam: 
“Like a wild tusker bathed in the heavenly pool
And adorned with floral pollen accompanied by buzzing bees,
Drugged with the fragrance of rut and shaking big trees along the way
The breeze sped down around the hermitage” (Balakānda, 220).

Bees may get attracted to the musth, but elephants do not seem to like them at all. Elephants are known avoid areas infested with bees. In Africa, therefore, bee culture has been encouraged in the fringe areas of forests as a strategy to mitigate conflict with humans (Lucy King, 2009; *,*). The method has not yet been tried in India but attempts are being being made to replicate the strategy on an experimental basis. There is no doubt that bees are a nuisance to Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) as well. In Manas National Park, an adult captive elephant was so annoyed with the sudden encounter of bees that it vanished into the forests in no time. The elephant could be traced only after two months of intensive search (Bhaskar Choudhury, WTI, pers.com.).

(2) Vulture and the hawk eagle

Sangam literature has a wealth of information on birds. While poets have described the morphological characteristics of birds in amazing detail, others have focused on their unique behavioural attributes. There is always a prefix or adjective to majority of the references to animals in Sangam poems, especially in the case of birds which is understandable since birds come with such a diversity of colours and shapes (as goes a famous Tamil movie song: பறவைகள் பலவிதம், ஒவ்வொன்றும் பலவிதம்). As described in Sangam poems, many have speckled feathers, spotted necks, white necks, curved beaks, pointed talons, crested heads, large combs, drooping wattles, large earlobes, yellow or red shanks and so on. The birds also exhibit a diversity of feeding habits and other behavioral repertoires, all of which would have attracted the attention of ancient poets who had only the nature to observe to, and no other distractions in life to artificial artifacts like cars or airplanes the modern man has in the contemporary world.

The typical birds of the pālai tinai (dry wasteland landscape) of Sangam poems are the diurnal raptors belonging to the family Accipitridae which includes hawks, eagles, kites, harriers, goshawks, buzzards and old world vultures. Barring few exceptions (e.g. Akam 44:11; Kali 82:27, 106:27), almost all occurrences of the members of the Accipitridae family is restricted to pālai poems. These ‘scorched wastelands’ in Sangam prosody are not sandy deserts but mullai or kurinji tracts in extremes of heat and drought. If the mountainous ‘kurinji’ tinai is associated with ‘union of lovers’, the deserted pālai tinai is associated with theme of separation of lovers.

At least five different words have been used in Sangam poems for diurnal raptors (எருவை, எழால், கழுகு, பாறு, பருந்து). Of these five, the word kazhugu and parunthu these days mean ‘vulture’ and ‘eagle’. Whether these words meant vulture, eagle, kite, falcon, buzzard, or shikra would all depend on the descriptions of morphology and behavior mentioned in the poems. Of course the meaning of a word would depend on the context of the poem also, as poets sometimes use the same word to mean a vulture or eagle.  For instance, any reference to a group of birds feeding on a carcass is very likely to be a vulture. Whether it is a long-billed, white-rumped or red-headed vulture would depend on further descriptions, if any, given in the poem.  At least eight of the 80 poems in Pathitruppathu have a reference to these words. Let’s look at selected lines from two of these poems: 

மாவும் மாக்களும் படுபிணம் உணீஇயர்
பொறித்த போலும் புள்ளி எருத்தின்
புன்புற எருவைப் பெடைபுணர் சேவல்
குடுமி எழாலொடு கொண்டுகிழக்(கு) இழிய 10
Corpses, alternating with the carcasses of horse and elephants
Killed in the fray was sought by vulture
with his mate with spotted neck and uneven back,
And by the eagle with crested head.
(Paditruppathu 36) [Translator: AVS]

Crested hawk-eagle
White-rumped vulture
The translator has rendered “eruvai” as vulture and “ezhāl” as eagle. The phrase “குடுமி எழால்” indicate that it is crested. The only eagles with a crested head found in Peninsular India are the crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela) and the crested hawk eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). While the former is a specialist in hunting snakes as the name suggests, the latter, also called the changeable hawk eagle, is not an exclusive aerial hunter. But none of the poems in Sangam literatures where the word ezhāl occurs indicate selective predation on snakes. Instead, ezhāl is known to swoop on other birds and hunt in the air (e.g. Kurun 151:2; Tinamozhi Aimpathu 15:1). The only group of crested predatory birds capable of hunting in the air is the hawks and buzzards. However, the above cited poem from Patitruppattu indicates that this crested hawk (குடுமி எழால்) is waiting to scavenge on the dead carcass along with vultures. The ‘vulture’s mate with spotted neck’ could well be an immature vulture of any of the Gyps spp found in S. India. While the references to hawks (எழால்) in Sangam poems (பத்துப்பாட்டு, எட்டுத்தொகை) is far and few, there are more than 60 odd references to vultures and eagles (எருவை, கழுகு, பாறு, பருந்து) and these have been taken up for a detailed discussion under Akanānūru.

 (3) Country liquor in Sangam

Slumbers are no different from the dead; nor alcoholics from consumers of poison” (Kural 926) said Thiruvalluvar, the greatest moralist the Tamil land has ever produced. The poet devoted one entire chapter called “kallunnāmai” (கள்ளுண்ணாமை) to highlight the evils of consuming alcohol. But when we look at pre-Pallavan Tamil literatures, consumption of alcohol was not denounced as a sin or evil. There are scores of references in Sangam poems to indicate that alcoholic beverages played an important part in the daily lives ancient Tamils, both men and women.  The renowned poetess Avvaiyār of the Sangam period (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.) has sung: "When he had only a little toddy, he would give it to us, but now no longer; when he had ample toddy he would give it to us and then happily drink what was left to him as we sang. But now no longer" (Puranānūru, 235). A poem from Akanānūru (336) also mentions young women consuming toddy and dancing near a village tank beneath the shade of a kānchi tree (Trewia polycarpa).

It appears that the first conflict between drinking and abstinence began during 5th or 6th centuries A.D. as evident from a poem in Kalithogai (Song 99, Lines 1-3). Commenting on these lines, commentator Visvanathan (2004) writes: “கலித்தொகை நறவினை (கள்ளினை) வரைந்தோர், வரையாதார் என இவ்விரு பிரிவினையும் குறிப்பிடுகிறது. சங்க காலத் தமிழர் வாழ்வியலில் நறவு அல்லது கள் புறக்கணிக்கப்பட்ட பொருளாக இருந்ததில்லை. அந்தணப் புலவனான கபிலரும் வேளிர் குலச் சிற்றரசரான பாரியும் சேர்ந்தே கள்ளும் மாமிசமும் அருந்தி மகிழ்ந்திருக்கிறார்கள் என்று புறநானூற்றுப் பாடல் 113ஆல் தெரிய வருகிறது…………திருக்குறள் முதலிய கீழ்க்கணக்கு நூல்களில்தான் இத்தகைய போக்கு பழித்துப் பேசப்படுகிறது. சான்றோர்களின் அவையில் ஒருவன் மது அருந்தி வருவது பெற்ற தாயின் முன்னால் மது அருந்திவிட்டு வருவதைவிட மோசமானது என்று திருவள்ளுவர் குறிப்பிடுகிறார் (குறள் 923).”

Among Sangam literatures, Akanānūru and Puranānūru have the maximum number of references to toddy and other alcoholic drinks. Puranānūru is full of references to indicate that meat and drink were served together (Puram 125, 258,  261, 262, 297, 364).  Liquor was made from cereals or millets like rice (Akam, 284; Perumpanātruppadai, 141), palmyra (Akam, 256; Kurunthogai, 293), herbs (Pathitruppathu, 40:17-19) and even ripe mangoes (Akam, 348). The beverage was often well filtered (Akam36, 296; Puram 262, 298, 396, 400) and sometimes concocted with honey (Akam 221, 348). Did they ever use flowers like that of Madhuca longifolia (Hindi: mahwa, Tamil: iruppai or iluppai) for making liquor?   There are plenty of references to iruppai (Indian butter tree) flowers in Sangam literature and there is even a reference to young girls collecting the flowers left uneaten by sloth bears in long bamboo pipes (Akam 331) which might well be for fermenting the collect later!

The following selected poems from Pathitruppattu indicates that ancient Tamils used the bark of plantain tree to strain liquor which was sometimes distilled out of herbs and matured in bamboo pipes. 

வென்(று)எறி முழங்குபணை செய்த வெல்போர்
நாரரி நறவின் ஆர மார்பின்

You now sit quaffing the fragrant liquor
That was strained with the bark of the plantain tree
To commemorate the great victor
In the battle with fierce Kadambās. 
(Poem 11, Lines 13-14) [ Transl: A.V. Subramanian]

புன்கால் உன்னம் சாயத் தெள்கண்
வறிதுகூட்(டு) அரியல் இரவலர்த் தடுப்பத்
தான்தர உண்ட நனைநறவு மகிழ்ந்து

The suppliants who throng your place
Are offered cups of limpid liquor distilled with herbs –
A beverage that simulates a sense of pleasure
Without producing inebriation.
(Poem 40, Lines 17-19) [ Transl: A.V. Subramanian]

சா(று)அயர்ந் தன்ன கார்அணி யாணர்த் 20
தூம்(பு)அகம் பழுனிய தீம்பிழி மாந்திக்

As if it were a festive day, quaff the liquor sweet and favoured,
That has been matured in the cavity of a dusky bamboo newly cut
And celebrate in noisy gaiety, distributing what they need to the suppliants.
(Poem 81, Lines 20-21) [ Transl: A.V. Subramanian]

Even now bamboo containers are used.
This photo is of makgoli or a milky rice wine,
an ancient Korean liquor
Bamboo seems to be the container normally used to allow the beverage to ferment (Akam 348, Natrinai 276, Pathitru 81:20-21). Strong liquors are compared to the stings of scorpion (Puram, 392) and bite of a deadly cobra (Akam, 348). Ancient Tamils drank intoxicating beverages during the times of battle (Puram 178), while commemorating victory in battle (Patiruppathu, 11:13-14), paying homage to departed souls by pouring it one memorial stones (Puram, 232), occasions of animal sacrifice (Pathitruppathu, 30, Lines 33-39), to party after a hunt (Natrinai, 59) and during auspicious occasions like marriages (Akam, 221).

Two of the commonly employed words for liquor in Sangam literature are kallu and naravu (கள்ளு, நறவு). The other word used but rarely is pizhi (பிழி) which literally means ‘extract’ (Akam, 102; Perum 281; Paditruppathu 81). In fact the world “நறவு” also means ‘honey’ (Sirupānātruppadai, Line 51), so also the other word “கள்” mean honey or nectar in some poems (e.g. Puram 48). This is just like the Sanskrit word “madhu” which means “liquor” as well as “nectar”. In fact the word “madhu” (மது) is also employed in Tamil but perhaps only once in Sangam literature (Porunārātruppadai, Line 217). Kalithogai 147 (Line 2) has two words (kal and naravu) together (கள் நறவு) which is said to be toddy got by fermented by honey (Subramanian, 1990).

(4) Nature poetry

Lastly, one of the best descriptions of nature I have come across in Pathitruppathu is the following lines from song number 13.  It appears to be a poem of Agricultural landscape (‘marutham’ - மருதம்) as it mentions sugarcane fields, coconut trees and buffalos. 

தொறுத்த வயல் ஆரல் பிறழ்நவும்,
ஏறு பொருத செறு உழாது வித்துநவும்,
கரும்பின் பாத்திப் பூத்த நெய்தல்
இருங் கண் எருமை நிரை தடுக்குநவும்,
கலி கெழு துணங்கை ஆடிய மருங்கின்
வளைதலை மூதா ஆம்பல் ஆர்நவும்,
ஒலி தெங்கின், இமிழ் மருதின்,
புனல் வாயில், பூம் பொய்கை,
பாடல் சான்ற பயம் கெழு வைப்பின்,
நாடு கவின் அழிய, நாமம் தோற்றி;
கூற்று அடூஉ நின்ற யாக்கை போல,
நீ சிவந்து இறுத்த நீர்அழி பாக்கம் -

Fish leaping in fields of cattle;
Easy unplowed sowing where the wild boar has rooted;
Big-eyed buffalo herds stopped by fences of lilies
        flowering in sugarcane beds;
Ancient cows bending their heads over water flowers
        scattered by the busy dancers swaying with lifted hands;
Queen’s-flower trees full of bird cries,
The rustle of coconut trees,
Canals from flowering pools in countries
       with cities sung in song;
But your anger touched them, brought them error,
       left their beauty in ruins, bodies consumed by Death.

(Koomathur Kannanaar, Pathitruppathu, 13) [Translation: A.K. Ramanujan)

  • Ramachandran, C.E. 1974. Ahananuru in its Historical Setting. University of Madras. 148 pages
  • Ramachandran, S. வரலாற்று நோக்கில் தமிழ்ச் சமூகமும் கள்ளும். South Indian Social History Research Institute (Sishri), Chennai.
  • Rasmussen L.E.L., Lee T.D., Roelofs W.L., Zhang A., Daves G.D. 1996. Insect pheromone in elephants. Nature 379:684.
  • Rasmussen L.E.L., Riddle H.S. & Krishnamurthy V. 2002. Mellifluous matures to malodorous in musth. Nature 415: 975-976.
  • Subramanian, N. 1990. Pre-Pallavan Tamil Index. University of Madras. Page 243
  • Varadarajaiyer, E.S. 1945. The Elephant in the Tamil Land. Annamalai University, 1945 - 110 pages
  • Viswanathan, A. 2004. கலித்தொகை: மூலமும் உரையும். Chief Editors: A.M. Parimanam and K.V. Balasubramaniyam. New Century Book House (P) Ltd. Chennai. Page 433


  1. Excellent piece of writing linking Tamil literature and wild life; I enjoy reading this site; After reading 'Yanai Doctor' by Jeyamohan, a search on Dr. K (V.Krishanmurthy) in Google led me to the article in Nature and further refined search on musth and tamil literature brought me here.