Turtles in Vedic Sacrifice and the Dravidian concept of

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Jul 18 04:52:39 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-07-13 05:45:44 EDT, g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO writes:

<< "tittiyam" looks to me rather like derived from a Prakrit form "titthiya"
 from skt. "tIrthika", derived from "tIrtha"; see Apte, Skt.-Engl. Dict.,
 s.v. tIrtham, 20: "(in liturgical language) The path to the altar between
 the cAtvAla and the utkara." In Pali, you find "tittika" in the expression
 "samatittika" ("brimful", of a river); the word is also written "-titthika"
 which is clearly derived from "tIrtha". ... In the PrAtimokSasUtra of the
SarvAstivAdins I meet (in justone ms.) the form "samatittik(am)" which I
translate (following Edgerton): "(the alms bowl filled) with food to the

Many thanks to Georg v.Simson for this suggestion. I explored this suggestion
further using Pali-English Dictionary and Buddhist Suttas. The Dictionary says
that the derivation and meaning are doubtful and refers to Buddhist Suttas
(p.178-9) which has a long discussion about tittika and says "it is almost
certain that the original word had nothing to do with tIrtha". Moreover, in
the CT poem, tittikam is described as "fire-rising". So obviously it referred
to a fire-place and not a path or crossing or a container and the probability
of tittika being the source seemed low.

However, the presence of turtle seems to offer a clue. In "Agni", Staal says,
"In the agnicayana, a live tortoise (kUrma) is buried under the altar. Dumont
(1957, 16-18) has shown that the tortoise was chosen as a symbol of the three
worlds (earth, sky, and atmosphere) because of its domelike shape. The
tortoise was, moreover, regarded as the juice or life sap (medha in taittirIya
saMhitA 5.2.85, erroneously translated by Keith as if it said medhA,
"intelligence") of the earth: when PrajApati created  the earth and threw it
into the waters, the juice that flowed from it became a tortoise". The source
of Ta. tittiyam is most probably Sanskrit citi. Tamil Lexicon gives titti as
an alternate form of tittiyam. Moreover there is Ta. cittiyam which the
Lexicon says may perhaps refer to caitya. Given the attested tendency of c- >
t- sporadically in Dravidian, and the possible equivalence of a -tt- in Ta. to
a -t- in Skt., I think Ta. tittiyam is Sanskrit citi. This means azal ezu
tittiyam (fire rising tittiyam) is nothing but agni citi. What we seem to have
here is a reference to agnicayana. The commentators without a clear
understanding of the Vedic rituals explain it as sacrificial pit while in fact
it is a mound/pyre.  The Tamil poem also locates the hero near hot rocky

It is interesting that in a quintessential Tamil love poem we find a poet from
a hunter background using elements of a very specific Vedic ritual!

Comments are welcome. I would also like to know if there are any other Vedic
rituals involving tortoise. Thanks in advance.

S. Palaniappan

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