Dating Old Tamil Cankam poetry
glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jul 31 10:58:18 EDT 2008
As an example of the consistency and evidence for dates of the Sangam
poems, consider the following two AkanaanuuRu poems in which the city
of MuciRi is mentioned.
The hero who has set out for wealth leaving [the heroine] thinks of
the heroine and speaks
The red-legged bat, with her tiny brown fur,
crossing over the vast sky as she flies,
comes through the heat spread by the sun
and, not finding any fruit, remembering how she would feast before,
is distressed and sad to enter here. 5
The long runner from the brown top of the iRRi tree
with its small trunk and dull branches
falls on a large rough stone, and when the wind blows
it sways so it looks as if an elephant had raised its large trunk.
While we travel alone on these long, hot spaces with their mountain
surely she must have lost her wonderful loveliness,
like that of moon whose abundant rays spread their cool light,
and her color must have grown pale, like the tiny
piirkku flower, as she, with her small lovely forehead,
weeps by day and in the middle of night, 15
grieving and despairing like those who received dreadful wounds
as elephants fell in the tumultuous killing of battle
when Ceziyan with his bannered chariots and horses with cropped manes
besieged the town of MuciRi on the bay of the ancient sea.
1. It is not specified exactly what animal or bird this is. K and V
say it is a bat. The poem does make it clear that it is feminine.
“Fur” here is tuuvi, which usually means feather or down. There are
several fruit bats in South India. Pteropus giganteus has a reddish
body but dark legs, while cynopterus sphinx seems to have a bit of red
on its legs.
10. “Travel” is added for clarity.
13. The piirkku flower is pale yellow.
The hero speaks to his heart and does not leave [the heroine].
If I go through the long spaces of the wilderness
where large groups of bears with their huge paws,
tired of eating the larvae hidden in a tall, red mound
raised by the hard labor of tiny, brown termites,
take the hollow white flowers of dull-trunked iruppai, 5
I might easily obtain fine wealth that is so hard to amass,
yet even then, O my heart, I will not go, leaving her
so her proud, lined eyes fill with cool water,
so lovely they resemble a bouquet of two flowers of niilam
from a deep spring swarming with bees on the hill 10
of the high one whose festivals never cease
where the victory banner with the spotted peacock is raised
to the west of KuuTal whose streets are filled with waving flags,
city of Ceziyan who has good, tall elephants and who kills in battle,
who prevailed in a hard fight and stole the image 15
in the noisy siege of prosperous MuciRi,
where the finely made ships brought by the Yavanar
come with gold and return with pepper, churning up white froth
on the great river CuLLi of the Cheras.
9. “Bouquet” is etir malar piNaiyal, “a binding of flowers opposite.”
“Two” is added.
11-13. The hill is evidently Pazani, still a major temple to the god
Murugan, whose banner is a peacock. KuuTal is the old name of modern
14. Ceziyan is a title of the Chola kings.
16-17. MuciRi is called Muziris by the Romans and is mentioned in
documents from the first and second centuries CE. Roman trade with
South India ceased around the third century. Yavanar is the Tamil
name for Greeks or Romans (Sanskrit Yavana, from Greek Ionian).
MuciRi may be modern Pattanam, where archeologists have recently found
a Roman amphora dating from the first century or before. A hoard of
Roman coins was found about six miles from Pattanam.
19. The river evidently has two names—“Great River” (peer yaaRRu) and
CuLLi. The river is still known as Periyar in English.
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