old tamil

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Dec 7 00:12:14 EST 2012

In an earlier post, I had written the following.

<<Another example of the upper caste bias can be seen in choosing the reading "kaṉṟupeṟu valcip pāṇaṉ" instead of "kaḷiṟupeṟu valcip pāṇaṉ" in Nāṟṟiṇai 310.9 referring to a gift received by a bard. Pinnattur Narayanasamy Aiyar chose as correct the first variant interpreting the bard as one who eats veal.  Although Eva Wilden, the author of the critical edition of Nāṟṟiṇai did not argue for the second reading in her footnotes in the critical edition, she now agrees with me that the second reading is the correct one saying, "It is a case of that PuRam topos of the elephant bull as a gift," referring to the custom of bards getting bull elephants as gifts from chieftains and kings.>>

In response, one  member wrote to me offline that since an elephant (kaḷiṟu) cannot be eaten, the word in the poem must refer to a calf (kaṉṟu). I suggested to him to  look at Kuṟ. 295.4 for a parallel usage involving a cow. In both cases, the animal is only an instrument to get food, not the food per se.  After having consulted Kuṟ. 295.4, he wrote back saying that the two usages are not comparable and asked what food one gets from or through an elephant. Finally he said I was  forcing the texts to serve my purpose.

Since I remembered that in an earlier paper ("Early Evidence for Caste in South India") George Hart also wondered about what the poor bards would have done with a gifted elephant, I thought I could provide some clarification regarding the two poems. In Naṟ.310.9,  "kaḷiṟupeṟu valcip pāṇaṉ" refers to a bard who eats the food obtained through an elephant. In Kuṟ. 295.4, "ōrāṉ valcic cīr il vāḻkkai" refers to "the not very prosperous livelihood with food obtained through a single cow." In both cases, the animals are not eaten.

In both cases, the animals are the means through which the person earns his/her livelihood. That elephants can be a source of livelihood is common knowledge in Tamil Nadu/Kerala. In Tamil, we have a proverb, "yāṉai iruntālum āyiram poṉ, iṟantālum āyiram poṉ" meaning "An elephant is worth a thousand gold coins whether it is living or dead." An elephant can serve as a means of passenger transportation as well as freight transportation. We find instances of such usage in Classical Tamil poems. Pari.12.28 refers to people riding elephants. Puṟ. 247.1 refers to elephant transporting firewood. In fact, the modern commentator Turaicāmip Piḷḷai refers to the current practice of elephants being used in transporting felled trees in forests. So when a bard receives an elephant, he could use it himself for transportation or arrange for it to be used for a multitude of purposes for which he could earn compensation. In short, an elephant as a gift could have been a valuable asset for bard indeed. 

For an example of how a person can obtain food through an elephant, please see the following Malayalam movie that shows how a bankrupt household turns to obtaining their livelihood through an elephant. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifNX-DskwdY



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