(Apa)Bharani constellation and potters

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sun Jun 28 01:35:02 UTC 1998

According to Asko Parpola, post-Vedic Sanskrit tradition associates the three
stars of (apa)bharaNi with womb/pubic triangle or fire-place of three stones.
According to him, the IA word cullI used to refer to bharaNi in Digambara
Jaina tradition is generally derived from Ta. cuLLai/cULai meaning �potter�s
kiln, furnace, funeral pile�. However, because cognates of cULai and cuLLai
occur only in Tamil and Malayalam, he says "On the basis of the regular
morphophonemic rules governing Proto-Dravidian,*cul-ay/*cull-V 'fire-place,
hearth' may be assumed to have had a variant *cUl, homophonous with Proto-
Dravidian *cUl 'to become pregnant; pregnancy, pregnant'. This Dravidian
homophony may be reflected in the double-image of the (apa-bharaNI) asterism
as 'fire-place' and 'womb'." (See Deciphering the Indus Script, p.216-17). In
the discussion below, I shall show that the potter's kiln also has traditional
connection with pregnancy.

The Tamil tradition, in addition to the womb and fire-place, has other objects
to signify the apabharaNi constellation. According to Tamil Lexicon, Ta. kOy
'pot or vessel for taking out toddy' and tAzi 'a pot with a wide-mouth' are
both used to refer to the apabharaNi constellation. tivAkara nikaNTu gives
"kATukizavOL, pUtam, aTuppu, tAzi, tAci, cORu, taruman2 nAL, pOtam" as
referring to this constellation. Here taruman2 refers to yama discussed by
Parpola as associated with bharaNi. aTuppu (fire-place), tAzi (pot) and cORu
(cooked rice) have association with fire-place. kATukizavOL can be equated to
durghA. tAci (<Skt. dAsi) signifies a prostitute with associated sexual
connotations. Interestingly, dAsi also is referred to by another word "cULai"
homonymous with the word for kiln. pUtam is 'demon, goblin, malignant spirit,
described as dwarfish with huge pot-belly and very small legs' as well as "one
of the five elements". pOtam is 'vessel, ship, boat'. Thus we have the words
falling into one of three categories - vessel, creation, and death.

According to Parpola, apabharaNi is the very last asterism of the old nakSatra
cycle and is associated with death also. In the Tamil tradition, pots or
vessels are associated with both birth and death. Consider the following poem
by tirumUlar, the earliest Tamil tantric mystic.

in2pu uRRu iruvar icaivittu vaitta maN
tun2pak kalacam aNaivAn2 oruvan2E
on2patu nIrccAl kalacam patin2eTTu
ventatu cULai viLaintatu tAn2E.                             (tirumantiram 468)

A rough translation of this poem is: One person (life) joined the vessel
(body) of sorrow made from the clay which  two persons (male and female)
agreeably placed after enjoyment. The nine water pots (holes in the body) and
eighteen vessels (organs) were fired in the kiln (the fire of mUlAdhAra,
according to the commentator) and created.

In this Tantric mystic poem, we see the conception and birth of a living being
is compared to the creation of pots by a potter. The rural Tamil tradition of
cuLLai pirittal - when a pregant woman dies, a kilnful of baked pots is
purchased and distributed to the poor for propitiating the spirit of the
deceased - again clearly links pregancy and pottery-making. The potter�s art
of producing a pot from clay must have elicited awe and admiration from early
times. His art is compared to the creation of everything by God. Consider the
following poem.

kucavan2 tirikaiyil ERRiya maNNaik
kucavan2 man2attu uRRatu ellAm van2aivan2
kucavan2aip pOl egkaL kOn2 nanti vENTil
acaivu il ulakam atu itu AmE.                             (tirumantiram 443)

A rough translation is: In the same manner as the potter can make whatever he
sets his mind to, from the clay he placed on the wheel, our Lord Ziva, if he
wishes, can make many things from original motionlessness world/initial state.

The full creative control exercised by the potter is also compared to the
control of a king over his land in the following Classical Tamil poem.

vETkO ciRAar tEr kAl vaitta
pacu maN kurUu tiraL pOla avan2
koNTa kuTumittu i taN paNai nATu E              (puRanAn2URu 32.7-10)

A rough translation is: This cool cultivated land of his crown is his (to do
whatever he wishes) in the same manner as the colorful lump of clay which the
potter children placed on the potter�s wheel (can be made into anything the
potter wishes).

The pots also played a part when someone died. They served as urns for
interment also. Thus pots have a connection of creation to the womb which the
three stars of apabharaNi represented and a connection with death which was
signified by the last place of apabharaNi in the old star cycle.   It is
probably due to these associations that the womb, kiln, and pots came to be
associated with the apabharaNi constellation.

If the pre-RV Dravidian astral civilization elements were adopted by Vedic
culture, as put forth by Parpola, then is it possible that in that transition,
the association with potter's kiln was replaced with the association with the
sacrificial fire from which things are born?

Comments are welcome.

S. Palaniappan

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