Vedic Brahmin practices in ancient South India

Venkatraman Iyer venkatraman_iyer at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 15 13:57:21 UTC 2001

             pITu il man2n2ar
             nOy pAl viLinta yAkkai tazIi
             kAtal maRantu avar tItu maruGku aRumAr
             aRam puri koLkai nAn2maRai mutalvar
             tiRam puri pacu pul parappin2ar kiTappi
             maRam kantu Aka nal amar vIznta
             nIL kazal maRavar celvuzi celka en2a
             vAL pOzntu aTakkal um uyntan2ar mAtO

     Kings without majesty, they evaded what would have been done
   had their deaths come naturally, of sickness, and their bodies
   taken to be laid out on ever green grass of the finest kind by
   Brahmins schooled in the Four Vedas and the principles of
   Righteousness, who would have then chanted, "Go to where the great
   warriors go! those who wear their splendid war anklets, those who
   have died in a good battle and kept faith in their manhood!" and
   forgetting any love they may have had for them, they would have
   then wounded the bodies with the sword so as to free them of sin
   and buried them.

                                                    - G. Hart (1999)

>>This song by auvaiyAr is interesting for the following
>>reasons. Brahmins act as funerary priests in a burial. Moreover,
>>the brahmins cut the body with the sword before burial.

Dr. V. J. Roebuck wrote:
>Also that the poet does not approve of the practice.

At least in the tamil original, there is no hint of anyone
not approving the practice. Instead, the society/family
felt that it was a shame not to have died a heroic death.
The phrase "kAtal maRantu" (="forgetting the love they
had for the king") is generally interpreted using
similar passages elsewhere.

This ancient ritual of cutting up the kings
wearing 'kazal' (war anklets), but dying in bed (due
to disease), and not in battle, have been mentioned
in literature elsewhere.

For example, in the Manimekalai epic, an incident.
Informing the queen of the death of Prince Utayakumaran,
an old lady tells her that it was customary to lay
the dead body on the darbha grass and cut it with
a sword reciting mantra. Further, the old lady advises
not to feel sorry and cry before the King because
the Prince didn't die a death fit for royalty.

  "Placing dead body on a spread of sacred grass,
they now cut asunder with a sword so that he may
reach heaven attained by kings who meet with heroic death."

  taruppaiyil kiTatti vALil pOzntu
  ceruppukaz man2n2ar celvazi celken2a

                            - maN. 23:13-14

Compare the puRam. 93 poem.

V. Iyer

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