06 November 2011



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.

Sirupanchamūlam is yet another ethical work in the 18 minor works group of Tamil literature containing 100 quatrains in venba meter. Written by Kariyasan (காரியாசான்) sometime between 500 A.D. and 900 A.D., this work deals with various morals that would enable a householder lead a virtuous life in this world. The poet begins his work with an invocatory poem which says “After worshipping the sacred feet of the supreme being who has eradicated all the three evils namely desire, hatred and delusion, ………………. , I have composed this poem”. From this and some of the poems of ahimsa nature within Sirupanchamūlam, it is clear to us that the author was a Jain. One who has eradicated hatred, desire and delusion cannot be a creator God but only a sage who achieved these qualities by austerities and penance. 

Thirikadukam dealt with three medicaments of ethical precents, Naanmanikkadikai with four gems of ethical precepts and in Sirupanchamūlam we see five precepts being highlighted in each poem. Siru-pancha-moolam means five herbal roots. These are said to be kandangkathiri root, siruvazhuthunai root, sirumalli root, perumalli root and nerunchi root (கண்டங்கத்திரி வேர், சிறுவழுதுணை வேர், சிறுமல்லி வேர், பெருமல்லி வேர் மற்றும் நிருஞ்சி வேர்). Just like how these herbal roots cure physical ailments, so do the five precepts in every poem supposed to be a prescription for proper living. However, unlike Thirikadukam and Naanmanikkadikai, not all the poems in Sirupanchamūlam have five moral teachings (e.g. for this are 67, 68).

புறப்பாடல்கள் (நீதி)
புறப்பாடல்கள் (நீதி)
களவழி நாற்பது
ஐந்திணை ஐம்பது
இன்னா நாற்பது
ஐந்திணை எழுபது
இனியவை நாற்பது
திணைமொழி ஐம்பது
பழமொழி நானூறு
திணைமாலை நூற்றைம்பது
கார் நாற்பது

1) Flowering and fruiting

பூவாகிக் காயாகிக் கனிந்தமரம் ஒன்று
பூவாமல் காய்க்காமல் கிடந்தமரம் ஒன்று

என்ற கண்னாதாசன் எழுதிய பாடலை ஏற்கனவே ஔவையார் எழுதியநல்வழிஎன்ற நூலைப்பற்றி நான் முன்பு எழுதியபோது குறிப்பிட்டது நினைவிருக்கலாம். சிறுபஞ்சமூலத்தில் வரும் இரு செய்யுள்களை படித்தபொழுதும் எனக்கு இந்த திரைப்படப் பாடல்தான் நினைவுக்கு வந்தது

Let us see those poems now….

பூவாது காய்க்கும் மரம் உள; நன்று அறிவார்,
மூவாது மூத்தவர், நூல் வல்லார்; தாவா,
விதையாமை நாறுவ வித்து உள; மேதைக்கு
உரையாமைச் செல்லும் உணர்வு.

There are trees that fruit without flowering;
          Similarly there are erudite who, without growing old, become intellectual.
There are seeds which germinate without being sown by men;
          There are also ingenious who can imbibe knowledge without being instructed.
(Translator: K.N. Chokkalingam; modified)

Ficus glomerata (அத்தி)
The question is if there are any trees that fruit without flowering. Actually there is none. However there are trees that seed without flowering. All the primitive trees like spruce, pine and oak are non-flowering and they are called “Gymnosperms” which mean ‘naked seeds” in Greek. In other words, their seeds are without a fleshy covering which we call the “fruit” and therefore called ‘naked’. While these non-flowering plants are largely restricted to the temperate environments (a good exception are the cycads), the flowering plants (Angiosperms) dominate everywhere particulary the tropics. There is hardly any Gymnosperm in the Tamil country that would have attracted the attention of the Tamil poets, except the Cycad which must have been quite common in the hilly Kurinchi and parts of Mullai landscapes. But cycads do not fruit, but only seed.

If there are no fruiting trees that do not flower, what does then the author of the poem Kariyasan refer to? Elsewhere in Tamil literature, we see species like fig and jack being referred as trees that fruit without flowering. Poet Kariyasan is ideed referring to these species under the family Moraceae whose members include jacks, figs and mulberry. Contrary to what people believed (or even laymen of the present), these plants also flower but these are composite and minute and thus not visible to the nake eye. It is not a surprise that our ancestors have failed to note this phenomenon.

Now let us go the next poem:

பூத்தாலும் காயா மரம் உள; நன்று அறியார்,
மூத்தாலும் மூவார், நூல் தேற்றாதார்; பாத்திப்
புதைத்தாலும் நாறாத வித்து உள; பேதைக்கு
உரைத்தாலும் செல்லாது, உணர்வு.

Like trees that do not fruit in spite of flowering;
          there are also people who remain immature in intellect despite growing up.
Like seeds that do not sprout even when sown,
          there are also fools who cannot comprehend even when instructed.
(Translator: K.N. Chokkalingam; modified)

Here the poet says that there are trees that do not fruit in spite of flowering! But this is true? These are plants where both male and male trees are separate and these are called Dioecious plants. The ones bearing the male flowers are called Andreoecious plants and those bearing only the female flowers are called Gynoecious. Our Papaya (பப்பாளி or Carica papaya) tree is a good example. However Papaya came from South America and the ancient Tamils wouldn’t have known about Papaya during their times. Their reference to non-fuiting flowering trees could be to some of the local species of trees or plants. Dioecious plants constitute only 6-7% of all plant species (*) and are therefore rare (an Indian examples: Mallotus philippensis கபிலப்பொடி மரம்).

Pazhamozhi Nanuru, another ethical treatise of the same era, has a poem (No. 94) which is word by word, almost identical to the poem 23 from Sirupanchamoolam. Such parables of plants germinating, flowering and fruits are found in literature outside India as well. Alluding to the early death of his disciple, Yen Yuen (, Confucius said: "There are seedlings that do not bear flowers. There are flowers that do not bear fruits" (Analects 9:21).

2) Architects of the animal world

தூக்கணாங்குருவி கூடு
தூங்கக் கண்டான் மரத்திலே
சும்மாப் போன மச்சானுக்கு
என்ன நினைப்போ மனசிலே

இது வானம்பாடி என்ற படத்துக்காக நம்ம கண்ணதாசன் எழுதிய மற்றுமொரு பாடல். The reason why I like the next poem is not only because of the reference to the nest of weaver birds in it, but also many species of insects. The lac insect, honeybees, silkworm and stem boring beetles and all have their own skills that are unique to them. One species cannot emulate the other as these are skills honed by them for generations and each would not aspire to imitatate the other or even boast others of their own skills. They simply go through their business of engineering their nests, silken threads, honeycomb and the like as a matter of rotune. Had our Tamil poets been born in the temperate countrysides of Europe or North America, the dam building beaver would have found a place in the following poem. The poet could have used termite hills also here. Sangam literature has many references on termite hills and how sloth bears go with the business of demolishing them to feed on the termites (e.g. Natrinai 325).

குரீஇக் கூடு, அரக்கு, வால் உலண்டு, நூல் புழுக்கோல்,
தேன் புரிந்தது, யார்க்கும் செயல் ஆகா; - தாம் புரீஇ,
வல்லவர் வாய்ப்பன என்னார்; ஓரோ ஒருவர்க்கு
ஒல்காது, ஓரொன்று படும்.  

Nests woven by weaver birds; lac produced by bugs;
Silken threads produced by worms; trails left by stem borers;
Hives crafted by honey bees; no one can imitate these crafts.
Each of these is a craftsmanship of the respective species.
So do men, endowed with expertise in a particular vocation,
          never claim mastery in other disciplines.

The poet here to point out that even tiny low insects are capable of producing amazing artifacts which man cannot emulate. That being the case, it is futile for anyone to claim mastery in areas which are the realm of expertise of others.


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