uraga and AlavAy

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sun May 2 05:21:28 UTC 1999

In a message dated 4/19/99 7:06:58 PM Central Daylight Time, mrabe at ARTIC.EDU

> Defending V. Venkayya and E. Hultzsch & in response to
>  Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan

Their positions are not really defensible as far as Madurai is concerned. For
reasons, please see "India in Kalidasa" (1947) by B. S. Upadhyaya who
explicitly equates "uragapura" and "AlavAy" with Madurai. (I thank L.
Srinivas for the reference.) In any case, I shall independently argue the
case below.

>  These pioneering epigraphist took at face value, as do I, the Gadval plates
>  assertion  that in  c. 674 A.D. the Chalukya  king Vikramaditya I first
>  sacked Kancipuram and then continued southwards as far as Uragapura on the
>  Kaveri.

This is justified. It is pAmpUr/tirunAkEcuram near kumpakONam.

>It seems perfectly reasonable, moreover to equate THAT Uragapura
>  with the one Kalidas mentioned a couple centuries earlier, [but as a city
>  of Pandyas].

This is not just justified. Anyone familiar with the Tamil heritage and
Pandyas will know that Pandyas are going to be praised as possessing
historical Madurai or koRkai or legendary kapATapuram and not some other
obscure place named after a snake. (The context in Raghuvamsa is the
svayamvara of a princess where the Pandyan king is praised as the nAtha of
the pura called uraga.)

It looks as if one cannot expect the knowledge of Tamil traditions to
increase as a monotonically increasing function over time.  The great
Kalidasa is right when he calls the Pandyan king as the leader of the city
called "uraga". He does not call the city "uragapura". It is the much later
commentator Mallinatha who calls it nAgapura and locates it away from
Madurai. Kalidasa never associates Kaveri or any of its distributaries with
"uraga". (G. S. Ghurye also rightly calls the Pandyan city by the name
"uraga".)  If one were to take the Gadval plates at face value, we  have the
city's name as "uragapura". We also have to take at face value the fact that
Kalidasa calls the Pandyan city as "uraga".  Then the hypothesis to disprove
is that they are different places. One cannot assume that a generic noun like
pura is always superfluous. Consider the pairs kaTaiyam/kaTaiyanallUr or
kOzi/kOzikkOTu. We have four different towns here.

> But it is unwarranted, I believe, to ascribe a
>  snake-related name to Madurai on the basis of the Kalidas reference

Of course, it is warranted on the basis of Tamil traditions described in
nampi's (13th century) and paraJcOti's (16th century) texts. Harman writes,
"The term AlavAy (Skt. hAlAsya) means "the poison-mouthed one", or more
simply, "snake". Madurai is frequently called either AlavAy or tiruvAlavAy,
particularly in Tamil literature...The 49th game (and the first in this
volume) presents the etymological and etiological account of how the city
came to be known as the "Sacred Snake.""

Interestingly, in nampi's tiruviLaiyATal, the snake is referred to as
"urakanAtan2" (Skt. uraganAtha) and in paraJcOti's tiruviLaiyATal, the snake
is referred to as "urakam" (Skt. uraga). It is interesting that Nampi uses
the Tamil equivalents of the words, "uraga" and "nAtha", which are used by
Kalidasa also.

Both uraga and uragapura are Sanskritizations of the names of different
places by different persons at different times. Mallinatha, Venkayya and
Hultzch have really messed up their identities. In the process, what
Kalidasa's use of uraga tells us about the history of religion in Tamilakam,
Sanskritization, and interaction among the Sanskrit and Tamil worlds of the
5th century AD has not been properly understood.

S. Palaniappan

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