A note on Poets in the Akananuru

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Apr 18 02:53:34 UTC 2010

Dear Palaniappan,

I think you underestimate the quality of the poem and the skill of the poet.  It takes a poet of transcendent ability to write something so simple and perfect.  If you will look at the rhythmic structure, you'll see that the first three lines move in a stately, regular way, suggesting normality.  Suddenly the normality is broken violently by the rhythms and sounds of the fourth line "kings whose royal drum are struck in victory."  The line ends with "em," presaging a return to the "normality" of the first three lines, but there is no normality.  The last line (actually beginning with the last word of line 4) is full of -m sounds, which suggests a sort of dirge, and yet it brings back the "normal," regular rhythms of the first three.  This line  is unbearably sad; it suggests that even though nature and life seem unchanged outwardly, nothing will ever be the same.  This is not a poem that could have been uttered by little girls, in my opinion.  The use of rhythm, alliteration, and the depth of human experience it mirrors could only be the products of a mature, master poet.  You might note the poem in which Kapilar describes the little girls who before would count the horses of enemy kings laying siege to Paṟampu and now (after their father's death) count the wagons of salt merchants.  I'm putting it in below -- note the whole point of the poem is that, like all children, Pāri's daughters are blithely unaffected by the tragedy that has befallen them and still enjoy life as if nothing had happened.  The poem, of course, is ironic: that the little girls stand in a wilderness counting salt wagons shows how far their status has fallen from when they were the daughters of a king and counted the horses of enemy kings.  The poem attributed to Pāri Makaḷir shows a far more mature reaction to tragedy than one would expect from little girls.  I do agree that Kapilar here is probably using some poetic conventions from folk poetry.  George


Skirts of waterlilies sway across their thighs, made of full-blown
blossoms that grew in large, deep springs where the water is sweet.
With their cool and beautiful eyes, their light laughter, the girls
climb up on a heap covered with dwarf datepalm, where sponge gourd
has rooted and calabash has spread, near a hut that has cotton
growing in the front yard, and there is a fence of thorns and near it
are twisting paths choked up with grass, and standing there on the mound,
they count the wagons that carry the salt for the salt merchants.
I feel pain and how I wish that my life were over!  There was a time
when they would climb the highest peak on the wide mountain
where prosperity was unending and the peacocks would rise up 
and dance in gardens of cultivated flowers while on the great slopes
planted with crops, there were monkeys that were swinging and leaping,
and trees gave fruit in and out of season, so many that the monkeys
could not take them all; and as the kings with their great armies
came against the hill in war, ignorant of how difficult it would be
to prevail against their father Pāri, he who wielded a sharp spear, 
he who was the master of abundant toddy, 
from the peak the girls would count the proud horses bearing the iron weapons of kings!

Kapilar sings Vēḷ Pāri.  Tiṇai: potuviyal.  Tuṟai: kaiyaṟunilai.

On Apr 17, 2010, at 7:22 PM, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan wrote:

> Dear George,
> In fact, I think the very presence of Kapilar as a family friend suggests that the attribution could be true indeed. U. Vē. Cāminātaiyar describes the poetic abilities of his teacher  Mīṉāṭcicuntaram Piḷḷai (1815-1876) at about the same age. So, if the girls had studied Tamil with Kapilar, the two girls could have been excellent poets in their own right. I do not think it would be anything unusual for them to compose such a poem. Moreover, the very structure of the poem suggests that authorship by two persons is very possible as seen below
> aṟṟait tiṅkaḷ avveṇ nilaviṉ
>  entaiyum uṭaiyēm em kuṉṟum piṟar koḷār 
> iṟṟait tiṅkaḷ ivveṇ nilaviṉ
>  veṉṟeṟi muraciṉ vēntar em
>  kuṉṟum koṇtār yām entaiyum ilamē
> The first two lines could have been uttered by one daughter and the other three lines by another daughter. This pattern of two-person song-making/word play is common in folk songs and this has been depicted in the Tamil epic poetry of the Cilappatikāram (Kuṉṟakkuravai 12-14), in Bhakti poetry like the Tiruvācakam (Tiruccāḻal), and in modern film songs. Although Kuṉṟakkuravai and Tiruccāḻal are considered to be imitative of originals prevalent in the folk culture, the poem by Pāri's daughters could be an original.
> So, I do not think there is any reason to doubt the traditional attribution of the poem to Pāri Makaḷir.
> Talking of Kuṉṟakkuravai 12-14, they also indicate that the source of the genre of antādi could be in the folk culture and be very old.  
> Regards,
> Palaniappan
> On Apr 17, 2010, at 4:45 PM, George Hart wrote:
>> Dear Palaniappan,
>> Just what seems likely, I suppose.  Everyone may not know the story.  The great poet Kapilar was patronized by Pāri, who ruled over a small mountain called Paṟampu.  Pāri was (and still is) renowned for his generosity, and as a result the three great kings, Chera Chola and Pandya, became jealous, joined together, and laid siege to Paṟampu.  In the end, they could not take it by force, but were able to do so by treachery.  Pāri was killed, and Kapilar (a Brahmin) was spared.  Kapilar took Pāri's daughters to many kings and attempted to get them married but was unsuccessful.  In the end, he is supposed to have married them to other Brahmins.  The poems Kapilar wrote about this are some of the most beautiful in any literature.  There is one poem attributed to Pāri's daughters:
>> On that day, under the white light of that moon,
>> we had our father and no enemies had taken the hill.
>> On this day, under the white light of this moon, the kings,
>> royal drums beating out the victory,
>> have taken the hill.  And we! we have no father.
>> The power of these lines has echoed through almost 2000 years of Tamil history.  It seems to me unlikely that two young (12?) girls could compose such a master poem, especially when Kapilar, whom we know was a great poet, was with them and experienced what they did.  Of course, there is no way of being 100% certain that the girls did not have a part in the poem -- it is not unlikely they said something and Kapilar put it into poetry.  George
>> On Apr 17, 2010, at 1:32 PM, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan wrote:
>>> Dear George,
>>> What are the reasons for doubting the attribution of Puṟam 112 to Pāri Makaḷir?
>>> Thanks
>>> Regards,
>>> Palaniappan
>>> On Apr 16, 2010, at 4:09 PM, George Hart wrote:
>>>> I am working through the Akananuru now, constantly struck by the ingenuity of the poets.  The words of Māgha certainly fit:
>>>> kṣaṇe kṣaṇe yan navatām upaiti tad eva rūpam ramaṇīyatāyāḥ
>>>> That which becomes new every moment is the very form of beauty.
>>>> The poems rehearse the same situations and often the same imagery over and over, yet each one seems to have something new and extraordinary that makes it different from the others.  In any event, I remember speaking with Rajam once about the Akananuru and she remarked how different the poems of Paraṇar and Kapilar are.  After working through many poems, I am struck by how unerring her insight is (and I am indebted to her for pointing this out).  We constantly wonder about the authorship of these poems -- are the attributions simply made up, or are they real?  In some poems, it is clear that the anthologist has taken liberties -- I doubt that anyone really believes the poems attributed to Pāri Makaḷir are by Pāri's daughters.  But, after seeing how the techniques of Pāri and Kapilar are so different and how the poems of each have similar styles, I am beginning to wonder whether in fact the attributed authorship of the Sangam poems is not in fact accurate.  Is there any evidence, for example, that Kapilar did NOT write the century of poems in the Ainkurunuru attributed to him (Martha Selby has said she believes the Ainkurunuru to be late)?  Or that the Sangam poets who are supposed to have written the Pattuppāṭṭu may not have been the same as in "earlier" works.  Note that in Tamil love poetry and Poetics, Takahashi believes that some of the anthologies are late and thus that the authorial attributions are incorrect.  I'd be interested in what people think about this.  George=

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