Smoke and flower in Classical Tamil

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Wed Feb 25 03:30:06 UTC 1998

The participation in this list yields unexpected insights. Sometime ago, as I
was responding to a query on "curry", I noticed something interesting. As I
researched it later, it gave an important insight into how Dravidians viewed
flowers and smoke.

In a Classical Tamil poem, we find the following:

pUtta pukaiyum aviyum... (par 16.53)

Here, "pukai" (smoke) is described by the past adjectival participle (pUtta)
of the verb "pU" which is interpreted as "to spread (like flowers)". For this
meaning of "pU", see V. S. Rajam�s "A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil
Poetry", p. 551. Similar use of the verb "pU" is also found in other works
like kamparAmAyaNam. The context gives the meaning for "pUtta pukai" as "smoke
that spread". Since the nature of smoke is to spread, the connection between
the verb and the noun is obvious and we can consider the possibility that the
noun is indeed derived from the verb. But the verb has long "U" while the noun
has short "u" in the radical position. We know that radical "u" elongates to
"U" in contractions when a consonant following the radical vowel is lost and
the derivative vowel is also a high vowel. This suggests that the original
verb root describing the action of smoke is *puk- which is the same as the one
in the verb base Ta. puku "to enter". One of the meanings Tamil Lexicon gives
for "pukai" is "to begin to be spoken of or made public; to come out". Here we
seem to have the aspects of emanating and spreading both commingled. This
leads one to wonder if the word  puku might refer to a transition from one
state to another , i.e., not only entering from outside to inside but also
emanating from inside to outside/spreading. The use of "pU" to describe the
actions of smoke as well as flower  also implies that the root for words
referring to flower could also be *puk-.

If the verb base is "puku", then "pukai" is a derived noun which is later used
as a verb also. Compare the following:

paku - to be split, divided                                pakai - hatred, to
naku - to laugh                                               nakai -
laughter, to laugh
puku - to enter / to emanate/spread                 pukai - smoke (that which
spreads/comes out of any burning object), to smoke

The verb "pU" is also used to describe smell as in the Classical Tamil poem
puRanAn2URu 14 with the following lines:

pulavu nARRatta paintaTi
pUnARRatta pukai koLIi...            (puR.14.12-14)

Here the flesh-smelling meat piece is made to have the seasoning with
spreading/emanating good smell (pU nARRatta). "pU" is used here as a non-past
adjectival participle.

Thus, if the word "pU" is ultimately derived from the root *puk-, then the
idea that the original root in the word "pukai" is *pok-  based on comparative
evidence needs to be changed. According to P. S. Subrahmanyam (Dravidian
Comparative Phonology, 1983, p.203) , "The following criteria will enable one
to discover the original Proto-Dravidian vowel: (i) related word in which the
root contains a short vowel and is followed by either no derivative element or
one that begins with -i or -u; and (ii) a related word in which the root
contains a long vowel or a double consonant (for this purpose it is immaterial
whether or not such a root is followed by a derivative element beginning with
a vowel (including a) because such a derivative element  can have no influence
on this type of root.)". P. S. S gives the following cognates for pukai. (DCP,
1983, p.208)

"Ta. pukai �smoke, mist, vapour, steam�; (-v-, -nt-) �to smoke�; (-pp-, -tt-)
�to cause to smoke�; pukAr �mist, fog, haze�. Ma. puka �smoke, vapour�, pukay-
�to be darkened by smoke�; puke- �to fumigate�. Ko. peg �smoke�; pog, pO
�tobacco� (l.w.). To. pax �smoke, tobacco�. Ka. poge, hoge �to smoke�, n.
�smoke, steam, vapour�. KoD. poge �smoke�. Tu. (C) puge. (B) poge; puge- �to
smoke; pugepu-pogepu- �to fumigate�. Te, poga �smoke, fume�; pogayu, povayu
�to smoke�; pogucu, pogacu, pogapu �to season with spices�; pogapu, pogupu,
pOpu �seasoning�. Kol. Nk. Ga. (Oll.) pog �smoke�. Ga. (S) pOgu. Go. (A) pOyA;
(Mu) poy- �to smoke� KonDa. pogo �smoke�. Kui (K.) pOkari. Kuwi (Su.) bOyi,
(P.) b~uy. (o and the long O in many CDr. languages indicate that they were
original here. 3483)"

On the other hand G. Sambasiva Rao (A Comparative Study of Dravidian Noun
Derivatives , 1991, p. 34) shows the following.
"Ta. puk-ai. Ma. puk-a, Ka. pog-e, Kod. pug-e, Tu. pug-e, Te. pog-a, Go. poy-
a, po-e, pog-a, Kond. pog-o, Kuvi. bhoy-i, bo-i �smoke� *puk-ay (3483)"

In the above lists of cognates, 3483 refers to DED entry.

Given the new evidence from Tamil with "pU" satisfying P.S. Subrahmanyam's
condition (ii), the radical vowel root seems to be *-u- confirming G.
Sambasiva Rao�s position.


S. Palaniappan

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