A note on Poets in the Akananuru

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Apr 18 20:22:19 UTC 2010

Dear Palaniappan,

I think we have pretty much exhausted this and I very much appreciate your ideas and responses.  While I don't agree with all of your points, they have provided much food for thought -- and nothing could be more valuable than that.  As for the use of -m, I would go no further than Kuṟuntokai 234, the famous evening poem, where the "m" sounds are clearly meant to evoke the suffering of the talaivi when evening comes and to contrast with the description of the dawn, with its "k" "ṭ" and "p" sounds.  Of course, m sounds don't always evoke sadness, but that doesn't mean poets don't sometimes use them that way (as in the poem above and the poem attributed to Pāri's daughters).  And yes, it's true that the phrase about conquering kings occurs elsewhere.  I believe the poets were imitating the oral literature of the Pāṇaṉs and Kiṇaiyaṉs, and like all oral literature, theirs must have had formulae (such as veṉṟeṟi muraciṉ vēntar).  The art of the poet lies in putting such lines -- which could be pedestrian in some contexts -- into the proper setting.  It's been claimed that the greatest line in English literature comes at the end of Lear: "Never, never, never, never, never."  (Don't know if this is the right punctuation).  In the mouth of a great actor, each of these "never's" means something different and more devastating than the one before.  Many thanks for an intriguing discussion!  George

On Apr 18, 2010, at 12:16 PM, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan wrote:

> Dear Indologists not familiar with Puṟanāṉūṟu,
> In order not to spoil the dramatic impact of poems discussed below, if you are unfamiliar with the poems and have access to "The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom" by George Hart and Hank Heifetz, please read the translations of poems 105-120, 200-202, and 236 some of which are discussed below.
> Dear George, 
> Although Puṟanāṉūṟu is an anthology of individual poems, as is well known, it includes what could be considered some series of poems from which one could construct stories of tragedies, the best being the story of Pāri and Kapilar in my opinion. We do not have such a detailed discussion of the aftermath of a tragedy in other cases. In the poems 105-120, poem 112 alone is not by Kapilar. For some, it is this intrusive positioning of a poem by Pāri's daughters in the middle of the poems by Kapilar that could cause doubts about the validity of the traditional attribution of authorship. I think the lasting impact of the poem is not only due to its own content but also due to its dramatic positioning by the anthologist amidst the poems by Kapilar. If one looks at the poems 105-111, it is one of happiness, praising of and supreme confidence in the strength of Pāri and his domain. In poem 110, Kapilar's total identification with Pāri is seen in his statement to the three kings as seen below
> "....But if you will go
> and you will sing to him, you win us and Pāri and his mountain!"
> In poem 111, Kapilar's attitude towards the three kings is demonstrated even better.
> "Of course the great dark hill is a miserable place!
> To conquer it by the spear would be hard for kings
> but easy to win for a woman with a drum, her blackened eyes
> like two blue waterlilies, if she comes to it singing!"
> Till poem 111, there is not the slightest hint of anything going to be amiss. But if a person unfamiliar with the story is reading the poems in the anthology sequentially, poem 112 is a shocker. One is not prepared for what is revealed in poem 112. It is in poem 112 the defeat and death of Pāri is revealed for the first time and that too, through the words of the daughters of Pāri. Although the poems follow an overall chronology with respect to Kapilar's poems, poem 112 seems to be out of place in terms of chronology. For instance, poem 114 by Kapilar should be earlier in time than poem 112. In poem 114, the hill of Pāri is still visible to Kapilar as they walk away. In poem 112, at least one month must have intervened between the departure from Pāri's hill and the time of composition of the poem. This is how A. K. Ramanujan (Poems of Love and War, p. 145) translates it.
> That month
> in that white moonlight
>    we had our father
>    and no one
>    could take the hill.
> This month
> in this white moonlight
>    kings with drums
>    drumming victory
>    have taken over the hill
> and we 
> have no father.
> (Going by the contents of poems 200-202, it is obvious that other chieftains were reluctant to marry the girls, possibly due to their fear of the three kings. In that case, it would make sense for Kapilar to take them far from their home as quickly as possible and not stay in the area for more than a month.) This shows it is deliberate on the part of the anthologist to place poem 112 where it is in the current anthology. And he seems to have succeeded in the effect he wanted to achieve.
> Coming to the detailed analysis of poem 112,  
> Line 3 ( iṟṟait tiṅkaḷ ivveṇ nilaviṉ) contrasts with line 1 (aṟṟait tiṅkaḷ avveṇ nilaviṉ)
> Line 4-5 (em kuṉṟum koṇtār yām entaiyum ilamē) contrasts with line 2 ( entaiyum uṭaiyēm em kuṉṟum piṟar koḷār)
> More specifically "em kuṉṟum koṇtār" contrasts with "em kuṉṟum... koḷār" and "entaiyum ilamē" contrasts with "entaiyum uṭaiyēm" simply and directly. Leaving aside the word yām (we), it is really the elaboration of "piṟar" in Line 2 to "veṉṟu eṟi muraciṉ vēntar" that needs to be looked at carefully. If one looks at the translation above it is "no one " being elaborated into "kings with drums drumming victory". (The use of "veṉṟu eṟi muraciṉ vēntar" also facilitates the order of enumeration of losses in the last line keeping the most critical loss, Pāri's death, to the climactic conclusion of the poem.)
> "veṉṟu eṟi muraciṉ vēntar" is a stock phrase we encounter in other Classical poems. In Puṟanāṉūṟu 351.5, the exact phrase occurs. In Kuṟuntokai 380.1-2, we have 
> "vēntar veṉṟu eṟi muraciṉ" In these other instances in Classical Tamil poetry, the phrase has a very positive connotation describing the ability of the kings to wage war and win according to the norms of the heroic age. But, given the attitude of Kapilar expressed in poems prior to 112 and the treachery of the three kings, one can doubt if Kapilar would have ever brought himself to describe the three kings using such a positive phrase even in a sense of sarcasm.  On the other hand, the young girls might have used it. The statement, though, would look to an adult as one of sarcasm. In my opinion, the impact of this poem on the reader is akin to that of the impact on adults when they hear the innocent statements of child victims of tragedies regarding the tragedies or their aftermath. One feels immensely sad for the children and is outraged at the sheer injustice of it all.  Of course, this is all a subjective interpretation of the poem. 
> In the final analysis, I wonder if there is enough objective information available to say with certainty that the traditional attribution is wrong. We may have to agree to disagree.
> Regards,
> Palaniappan
> P.S: Although this is not central to the discussion, in my opinion, it is doubtful if the occurrences of -m sounds per se suggests a dirge. If one looks at poem 110 given below, one can see many  -m sounds. But it is not a dirge. 
> kaṭantu aṭu tāṉai mūvirum kūṭi
> uṭaṉṟaṉir āyiṉum paṟampu koḷaṟku aritē
> munnūṟu ūrttē taṇ paṟampu naṉṉāṭu
> yāmum pāriyum uḷamē
> kuṉṟum uṇṭu  nīr pāṭinir celiṉē
> The famous poem, Kuṟuntokai 40 given below has a lot of -m sounds but it is anything but a dirge.
> yāyum ñāyum yār ākiyarō
> entaiyum nuntaiyum emmuṟaik kēḷir
> yāṉum nīyum evvaḻi aṟitum
> cempulap peyal nīr pōla
> aṉpuṭai neñjam tām kalantaṉavē
> What is my mother to yours?
> How is my father related to your father?
> And I and you
> How did we two meet?
> Like the waters of rain pouring down on red soil
> The two loving hearts themselves
> Blended with each other                     (K. Zvelebil's translation, "The Smile of Murugan", p.75 )
> On Apr 17, 2010, at 9:53 PM, George Hart wrote:
>> 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
>> 116
>> 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.

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