Black and Bright and Beautiful

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 25 17:07:49 UTC 2000

V. V. Raman wrote:
>2. One may still ask if  there are Tamil Brahmins who would name their
>children karuppan? And if not, why not? Please understand that I am not
>here to pass value judgments, to attacking or defend anybody, much less to
>pick up a fight,
>3. The fact is, black people don't  regard blackness in the same negative
>way as many non-blacks do.
>4. Although <varna> classification does take color as a basis (at least in
>its description), I rather doubt that prior to their encounter with the
><white (Caucasian) people> the Tamils
>looked down upon people with dark skin color. I have no proof positive for
>this, but this is my gut feeling, based on my modest
>acquaintance with classical Tamil literature.

"C.R. Selvakumar" <selvakum at VALLUVAR.UWATERLOO.CA> wrote:

 >     As far as I know Tamil Brahmins, by and large,
 >     do not name their children in Tamil. So it is
 >     I don't know whether this was the situation,
 >     say some 1000 years ago.

Even a 100 years ago, it wasn't so. One common first
name one can find among Tamil Brahmins of an earlier
generation is Picchai/Picchappa/Pichumani. My father
was officially named Sundaresan, but my grandmother
called him Picchappa, at home. I know at least two
Tamil Brahmin men named Murugan. Another feature was
the use of double names, one in Sanskrit and one in
Tamil. One of my ancestresses was called "aramaNattA
pATTi". It took me a while to infer that this name
was a version of Tamil aRam-vaLarttAL, i.e. Sanskrit
dharma-samvardhinI. There is also a fairly high
incidence of Tamil names among zrIvaishNavas, e.g.
Kannan, Perundevi, and names ending in valli/vaLLi.

I agree with S. Vidyasankar about the tamil names
used by Tamil Smarta brahmins until very recently.
Bharatiyar, named Subramanian, was known as Subbaiyaa
among kith and kin. Justice Muttusami Ayyar, the
first Indian to rise to be appointed to a High court.
Sanksritist Kuppusami Sastri, The avant-garde poet
Na. PiccamUrti, C. S. Chellappaa, author of
one of the best novels in Tamil (vATivAcal - on
bull baiting among Tamils, something like in Mediterranean)
- all have tamil names. Among Saiva Sivachariyar
brahmins also names are mostly tamil, and they are
said to be a Tamil group who successfully claimed
brahmanahood and produced most of the saivaagamas.

Regarding "aramaNattaa paaTTi", it is possible
it is the tiruvaiyARu goddess name, "aRam vaLartta
nAyaki" who took 2 nAzi measures of paddy grain
to sustain all the beings in the world.
"aRamvaLarttAL" is sanskritized as dharmasaMvardhanii.
Also, can "aramaNattaa" have anything to do
with araNmanai ('palace') in a "little" kingdom
(to use N. Dirks term)?

Let me tell a funny story of how meanings of names change:
In TirumaRaikkATu(=vedaara.nyam), the goddess name
is "yAzaip pazittAL" which gets usually sanskritized in-situ as
"". St. Sundarar sings in Tevaram:

  yAzaip pazittan2n2a mozi magkai orupagkan2
  pEzaic caTai muTi mEl piRai vaittAn2 iTam pENil
  tAzaip pozil UTE cen2Ru pUzaittalai nuzaintu
  vAzaikkan2i kUzaikkuragku uNNum maRaikkATE.

Over time, "yAzaip pazittAL" became "vAzaippazattamman",
and the local priests and stalattAr came up with an explanation
that this goddess is particularly fond of bananas!
Note that the area is fertile and known for banana cultivation.
Tons of banana fruits are offered as naivedhyam to Her.
T. M. Baskara ThoNDaimAn, I.A.S who founded Tanjore
art gallery and discovered several Chola bronzes told
the banana offering story. Similar is the Srivaish.nava
tiruppati, oppiliyappan sanniti (oppili is the Vishnu name
meaning 'One who has no peers'), but it was interpreted
as 'uppili' the 'salt-less perumAL' and all offerings
to Him are offered without any salt!

Also, how vEdAraNyam came to have this name is interesting.
In Tamil, -r-/-R- alterations are common. The village
was named after deer as "marai-k-kATu"(=deer forest).
It was a wild life area and this is clear from the county
name in old Tamil inscriptions. The area is
"umpal nATu" (elephant country) in inscriptions.
Son-in-law = marumakan/marumAn/maRumakan.
In tamil brahmin dialect "aattilE maaTTupoNNu eppaTi
irukkaa?" = "ahattilE maaRRuppoNNu .."
In old times, the tamil letter "R" was pronounced like
english letter "t", In Jaffna dialect, english
letter t gets transcribed as "R" (toronto is
written in tamil as "Roraan2RO").
So, tamil 'maaRRu' having a pronunciation like
"maattu" if it were an english word, became now: "mATTu-p-poNNu".
The tamil maraikkATu/maRaikkATu was translated as
Vedaara.nayam in Sanskrit, and corresponding
temple myths with Vedas shutting/opening of
the Shiva's sanctum doors was created and
elaborated. Now, in that area, vEdaratnam
is a common name just as praNatArtiharan
and aramaLarttAL in tiruvaiyaRu and Lalgudi
area kids are named peruntiru/sriimati.

I am aware of another mistranslation of a
goddess name. At mayilADutuRai(maayuuram),
"abhayaambaa" is a mistranslation of
aJcolaaL. This is a common epithet all throughout
Tevaram, and mentioned specifically in
maayavaram tevaram also. The literal translation
would be like madhura baashiNi/vaacaki/vacanaambaa etc.
If you read saiva tirumuRai, you will find that
all goddess names come from descriptions of
feminine beauty and her body parts. No
aJcal/shelter there from the goddess. All editions
from Tevaram that I have seen use only "aJcolAL".
But the French inst. of Pondichery
has retranslated Abhayambaa into Tamil now!

N. Ganesan

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