Kashmir Shaivism

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sun Dec 6 08:00:37 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-12-05 16:44:48 EST, mmdesh at UMICH.EDU writes:

<< The passage cited by Ganesan need not indicate a female earring.  The
 kings and other folks in the society used to wear Kundalas, the
 ear-rings.  Wearing an earring was a common thing for Pandits in
 Maharashtra until my grand-father's time.  There are instances of kings
 honoring a Pandit with a gift of an earring ( = bhikbaaLii in Marathi).
 Male children have their ears pierced in Maharashtra to this day.  My ears
 were pierced as a child and this came handy when I acted in zaakuntalam
 and maalavikaagnimitram as the king (during my college days in Pune), and
 I had to wear the Kundalas. >>

The passage cited by Ganesan indeed denotes a female ear-ring. The problem is
in Ganesan's translation of Tamil "tOTu" as Sanskrit kuNTala. "tOTu" as an
ear-ring specifically refers to female ear-ring. Tamil "kuzai" is indeed the
equivalent of kuNTala which can be worn by male as well as females. The line
in question

tOTu uTaiya ceviyan2 viTai ERi Or tU veNmati cUTi (tEvAram

is the first line of the zaivite corpus tEvAram. Although, chronologically it
was not the earliest zaivite poem, in the zaivite canon which begins with the
child devotee campantar's songs, this is the first song sang by the devotee.
According to the zaivite hagiography, the child sang this song in reply to his
father who questioned him who gave him the milk he has drunk. (Earlier, while
the father stayed under water in the bathing tank, the child devotee cried
saying "O mother! O father!". Then ziva came with pArvati and pArvati filled a
gold cup with her breast-milk and fed the child. The milk was indeed

What is interesting is that the child devotee did not say that pArvati fed him
the milk.    But it was the one who wears the female ear-ring in one ear,
ziva, who gave the milk. Thus the concept of ardhanArIzvara is subtly but
unmistakably established in the first song of tEvAram. This significance of
the first tEvAram song is well-known in Tamil zaivism. Thus Ganesan's
statement has a sound basis if the correct meaning of tOTu is taken into

Consider the following line also by the same devotee:

tOTu akam Ay Or kAtum oru kAtu ilagku kuzai tAza vEza uriyan2 (tEvAram

translation: with the female ear-ring (tOTu) in one ear (kAtu) and hanging
bright kuNTala (kuzai) from one/the other ear (kAtu), the one wearing the
elephant skin...

tOTu originally meant a leaf such as a palm leaf rolled and inserted in the
hole in the ear-lobe.

Of course, ear-piercing for all children is a common practice in Tamilnadu
even today. Palani, one of the six sacred places of murukan2, is well-known
for shaving of the head and ear-piercing.

S. Palaniappan

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