04 December 2011

Pazhamozhi Nānūru

பழமொழி நானூறு

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.

The literature of this week is the Tamil didactic work Pazhamozhi Nānūru (பழமொழி நானூறு). It is a work of 400 quatrains (if we also include the Proem), one of the longest of the Pathinenkeelkanakku (18 monior works) in Tamil. I haven’t come across any English translation of the work so far, but I presume some select translations of the work would have appeared already in some form or the other (Thus all translations of this work in this article are mine). Though not considered as great work in Tamil, Pazhamozhi Nānūru is unique for its employment of Tamil proverbs in all the poems. Of course there are literatures that contain few verses citing the proverbs of the time (e.g. Thirukkural 678, 1093) but there is no work that is entirely built on proverbs. The Biblical book of Proverbs could be a possible exception to my assertion, but it is only a collection of wise sayings or instructions portrayed as proverbs. Pazhamozhi Nānūru has both, the wise saying as well as they proverb. Yes, the author of Pazhamozhi Nānūru places all the 400 odd proverbs in relevant contexts. While the context appears in the beginning of the poem, the proverb appears in the end. In other words, all poems end with the proverb (except in the case of poem 124 where it appears in the first two lines). Nearly half (about 50%) of the proverbs in the 400 poems are single liners forming the last line of the quatrains, and an equal number (about 47% of the 400 poems) begin from the third line itself. Rarely (only 2%) do the proverbs begin from the second line itself. It seems poems 12 and 15 have two proverbs in them.

The author is a Jain monk Moonrurai Araiyanār about whom nothing is known. Looking at language of the work, it must have been composed anytime between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D.

The work contains some of the popular proverbs in Tamil:
  • நாயைக் கண்டால் கல்லைக் காணோம், கல்லைக் கண்டால் நாயைக் காணோம் appears as “நாய்காணின் கற்காணா வாறு” in poem 360 (I can see the dog, but not the stone).
  • நாய் வாலை நிமிர்த்த முடியாது appears as “நாய்வால்
    திருந்துதல் என்றுமோ இல்” in poem 336. (A dog’s tail never straightens)
  • சின்னமீனை போட்டு பெரியமீனை பிடிப்பது மாதிரி appears in poem 372 as “அயிரை விட்டு வராஅல் வாங்கு பவர்” (catching a large fish using a small one)
  • நான் பெற்ற தெங்கன்பழம் (216) (Like a coconut in the possessions of a dog)
  • நிறைகுடம் நீர்தளும்பல் இல் (9) (No spillage from a pot full of water)
  • திங்களை நாய் குரைத்தற்று (107) (Like a dog barking at the moon)
  •  பாம்பறியும் பாம்பின் கால் (7) (Only a snake knows the leg of another)
  • நுணலும் தன்வாயால் கெடும் (114) (For a frog, its voice is its nemesis)
The proverbs I have chosen below all have to do with animals: Jackal, dog, bear, peacock, snake, elephant and tiger.

1) The jackal has no set time

The Indian jackal (a subspecies of the golden jackal: Canis aureus) is primarily a scavenger subsisting on garbage of both vegetable and non-vegetable origin. It is known for its habit of eating whatever it chances upon during its daily forays in the forest, rural and suburban environments. In other words, there is no set time and place for a jackal to have its food. 

அல்லவை செய்ப அலப்பின் அலவாக்கால்
செல்வ(து) அறிகலர் ஆகிச்சி தைத்தெழுப
கல்லாக் கயவர் இயல்போல் 'நரியிற்(கு) ஊண்
நல்யாண்டும் தீயாண்டும் இல்'.  (101)

The ignorant base indulge in evil deeds,
Even at times of poverty and prosperity.
For a ‘jackal which does not mind eating
At anytime of the year, good or bad’.

The idea behind choosing the jackal as the animal for this attribute is because of its scavenging habits. A predator like the tiger or leopard won't even attempt to stalk any prey once it has had its meal of the kills to the full. There are times a tiger would go off food for even a week. Herbivores like deer and antelopes rest during the hot hours of the day and spend the time ruminating. They don't t think of grazing or browsing during these ruminating hours. Omnivores, scavengers in particular, are known to be opportunistic in their feeding habits as they feed on both animal and vegetable matter that comes on the way. If Tamil poet Moonrurai Araiyanār has chosen the jackal as the animal, Sanskrit poet Nilakantha Dikshita has chosen the crow to play the same role in one of his poems in Anyāpadesha Sātakam: "Now that winter is gone, there are new blossoms in the mango tree. The cuckoo will taste them and then sing beautifully. Let it be so. O crow, you have nothing to grieve about. You are free bird. You do not have to worry about the proper time, proper tune and proper food."

2) Rabid dog provoking a bear

பெரியாரைச் சார்ந்தார்மேல் பேதைமை கந்தாச்
சிறியார் முரண்கொண்டு ஒழுகல் - வெறியொலி
கோநாய் இனம்வெரூஉம் வெற்ப! ‘புலம்புகின்
தீநாய் எழுப்புமாம் எண்கு'.   (292)

Low men, in an act of rage, should not antagonize
Even with those who are only aligned to the great.
Their act will be “Like that of a rabid dog,
Entering the forest to wake up a bear’.

எண்கு'” here means the “bear” and “தீநாய்” the rabid dog. The idea here is that a dog may become rabid and in an act of fury attain some boldness, but it won’t be still good enough to challenge even a sleeping bear.

A parallel from Thirukkural for this poem: For the weak to challenge the mighty is to summon yama with the hand. (894). (கொல்லா நலத்தது நோன்மை பிறர்தீமை சொல்லா நலத்தது சால்பு).

3) Peacock and the snake

There are birds that hunt snakes and there are also snakes that hunt birds. Among birds, the African secretary bird, Indian crested serpent eagle, North American road runner, South American serieama are some of the birds that are specifically known for their ability to hunt snakes. The Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is another bird known for this ability.

துயிலும் பொழுதத்(து) உடைஊண்மேற் கொண்டு
வெயில்விரி போழ்தின் வெளிப்பட்டா ராகி
அயில்போலுங் கண்ணாய்! அடைந்தார்போல் காட்டி
'
மயில்போலும் கள்வர் உடைத்து'.  (194)

The peacock may be a beautiful bird to look at, but it does have a habit of killing and eating deadly snakes that come its way. So also thieves who appear like normal humans during the day but at night indulge in robbery. 

To surmise “Thieves are also deceptive like the peacocks”. This poem reminds us the Kural: “The wicked look utterly like men! Such close mimics we have never seen!” (1071) (மக்களே போல்வர் கயவர் அவரன்ன ஒப்பாரி யாங்கண்ட தில்). A similar verse is also attributed to Chanakya (Nitisastra, 10.7): “Those who are destitute of learning, penance, knowledge, good disposition, virtue and benevolence, are brutes wandering the earth in human form”. The Persian poet Shaik Shirazi also has this to say: “He who has neither knowledge, generosity nor piety resembles a man in form alone” (Bustan, Chapter 2).

4) Aging the elephant by its teeth

The age of a bullock, buffalo, cow or horse can be gauged by inspecting the dentition (Aging cattle; Aging horse). This method is based on the fact that teeth erupt at certain age and they wear out consistently over a period of time. No mammal is an exception to this rule including the elephant mentioned in the poem below. However dentition in elephant is unique on many accounts.
     (i) There are no upper or lower rows of incisors or canines in an elephant. The only two upper lateral incisors have overgrown to form tusks or tushes and therefore play no role in mastication.
     (ii) While in most mammals new teeth appear from below the old ones, in the case of elephants new teeth develop from the back and push the old ones forward.  
     (iii) Elephants have six sets of molars in their lifetime and as a tooth wears out through relentless grinding another pushes forward to replace it. It is difficult to say whether these are molars or pre-molars or a combination of both. 

For these reasons, an elephant is not usually aged by looking at its teeth, but by measuring its shoulder height, ear fold, front-foot circumference, body weight, girth circumference and body length etc (Krumrey and Buss, 1968; Western and Moss, 1983; Arivazhagan, C. and Sukumar, R. 2008). In any case, the mouth of an elephant is too small to be inspected with ease. 

மானமும் நாணும் அறியார் மதிமயங்கி
ஞானம் அறிவார் இடைப்புக்குத் தாமிருந்து
ஞானம் வினாஅய் உரைத்தல் 'நகையாகும்
யானைப்பல் காண்பான் புகல்'. (22)

Losing their self respect and sense of shame,
The ignorant try to mingle and discourse with the wise.
Thereby they expose themselves and become a laughing stock
Like those trying to age elephants by their teeth’.

Thiruvalluvar has devoted an entire chapter on “Illiteracy” and many of the 10 couplets in the chapter aptly describe this situation. “An unlettered man’s conceit will find its end when the occasion for speech arrives”. (405) (கல்லா ஒருவன் தகைமை தலைப்பெய்து சொல்லாடச் சோர்வு படும்).

5) Taming the shrew
‘Taming the shrew’ is one of William Shakespeare’s comedies which eventually became one of the most popular and commonly used idioms in English language. In the animal kingdom, there are species that can be easily tamed, and some can be even trained, while many others can be bred and even domesticated. The extent of this amenability to train and domesticate would depend on the biology, ecology and behavior of the species. Animals that have high flight reactions and retiring by nature like the hare, shrew, francolins, partridges are said to be difficult customers when it comes to taming them. This poem from Pazhamozhi Nānūru has a proverb is based on this.

காடுறை வாழ்க்கைக் கருவினை மாக்களை
நாடுறைய நல்கினும் நன்கொழுகார் - நாடொறும்
கையுள தாகி விடினும் 'குறும்பூழ்க்குச்
செய்யுள(து) ஆகும் மனம்'.   (96)

Those who live like wild beasts will not lead a virtuous life,
Even when exposed to the life in a civilized world.
You cannot tame the partridge though you may pet it lifelong’

6) Tiger proverbs

At least five proverbs in Pazhamozhi Nānūru use tigers in them.  Poem 70 says Even when dying of hunger, a tiger wouldn’t eat grass” (பசிபெரி தாயினும் புன்மேயா தாகும் புலி), poem 109 says “No one would attempt to pluck the ticks off a tiger’s face” ('புலிமுகத்து உண்ணி பறித்து விடல்'), poem 204 says “No dog would dare to smell a tiger” though it is sick (வாடி வலித்துத் திரங்கிக் கிடந்தே விடினும் 'புலித்தலையை நாய்மோத்தல் இல்'), poem 281 says “Though captive, no one would dare to wake up a sleeping tiger” ('எழுப்புபவோ துஞ்சு புலியைத் துயில்'.) and poem 324 says that “A cat may resemble a tiger, but can't kill anything bigger than a mouse” (புலியிற் பெருந்திறல வாயினும் பூசை எலியில் வழிப்பெறா பால்). However poem 200 on “forest and tiger” outstrips all these proverbs for its relevance to tiger conservation today. Undoubtedly, this poem is the best of the lot I liked in Pazhamozhi Nānūru. Here the poet employs the proverb which lay emphasis on the interdependency of tiger and forests.

உடையதனைக் காப்பான் உடையான் அதுவே
உடையானைக் காப்பதூஉம் ஆகும் - அடையின்
'
புதற்குப் புலியும் வலியே புலிக்குப்
புதலும் வலியாய் விடும்'.     (200)

The rich protect their wealth; which itself
Protects them during times of crisis – Just like how
‘Tigers’ presence is an asset to the forest,
So also the forest an asset for the tiger’

When I read these lines, I got reminded of ‘Viyaggha-Jātaka’ tale in Buddhism and in Mahabharata. In the Jataka story, Lord Buddha was a tree-spirit living in the forests. Hearing the attempt of another tree-spirit to drive away the tiger and lion from the forest, Buddha advises: "Good friend, it is just these two creatures that protect our homes. Once they are driven off, our homes will be made desolate. If men see not the lion and the tiger tracks, they will cut all the forest down, make it all one open space, and till the land. Please do not do this thing!" Deaf to Bodhisattva’s wise words, the tree spirit goes ahead with his mission of driving out the two big cats. When the local people fail to notice pugmarks in the vicinity of the forests, they realize that the big cats are not there and begin cutting the forests for converting the land for agriculture. Seeing trees being cut (the very abode of the spirits), the spirit pleads the tiger to come back to the forest in the following verse:

"Come back, O Tigers to the wood again,
And let it not be leveled with the plain;
For, without you, the axe will lay it low;
You, without it, forever homeless go."
Buddhism: Jataka Tales, Story No. 272
“VYAGGHA-JĀTAKA”

Mahabharata has strikingly similar lines, where King Dhrtarastra and his sons are compared to forest and Parthas to the tigers. 

"Do not cut down the forest with its tigers 
      and do not banish the tigers from the forest.
The tiger perishes without the forest, 

      and the forest perishes without its tigers.
Therefore the tiger should stand guard over the forest 

      and the forest should protect all its tigers".
(Mahabharata, Udyogaparvan.29,47-48)

The proverb cited in poem 200 in Pazhamozhi Nānūru is a befitting end to this story.

Tigers’ presence is an asset to the forest,
So also the forest an asset for the tiger.


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4 comments:

  1. superupa!!vaazhga palamozhi!!!velga thamizh!!!

    kaattu COO( )Ashraf, keep it up!!!!

    Maams.

    ReplyDelete
  2. நன்றி நாட்டுக் COO அவர்களே! தங்கள் பாராட்டுக்கு நன்றி.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent analysis and research. Expect to see more!

    ReplyDelete