Dating Old Tamil Cankam poetry

George Hart 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.

57

Paalai

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  
villages,	10

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.

Nakkiirar

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.


149

Paalai

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.

ErukkaaTTuurt TaayankaNNanaar



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  
Maturai.

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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