Categorizing Warriors and Bards in Early Tamil Society

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Oct 27 01:41:31 UTC 2012

Dear Scholars,

It isconventionally believed that the warriors and bards in early Tamil society weremutually exclusive social groups. A closer examination of the Classical Tamiltexts reveals that this does not seem to be true. Consider the word ‘maḷḷar’.It is usually interpreted as denoting warriors. 
But Akam.189 andAiñk. 371 reveal that the maḷḷar were also bards. In Akam.189, elephants whichcarry jack fruits using their raised trunks are compared to maḷḷar who go to participatein a viḻavu (festival) in a different land carrying the concert percussioninstrument, muḻavu. Indeed Perumaḻaippulavar, the modern commentator glosses‘maḷḷar’ in this poem as ‘kūttar’. 
That maḷḷar alsofunctioned as performing artists is inferred from Aiñk. 371.1 too, where apeacock is supposed to dance to the percussion by maḷḷar. UVS glosses ‘maḷḷar’in this poem as ‘vīrar’ (warriors). He also glosses ‘koṭṭu’ as beating thepaṟai drum. Another commentator, Perumaḻaippulavar, interprets this poem asreferring to warriors beating the war drum (pōr muracam). Because they haveinterpreted ‘maḷḷar’ here as warriors, the commentators have missed the markcompletely. 
One can expectpeacocks to get scared of war drums rather than dance to their sound. In otherpoems, a peacock’s dance is compared to viṟali’s dance performed to theaccompaniment of the concert drum ‘muḻavu’. (See Akam. 82.4-9). ‘Muḻavu’playing is associated with the festival ‘viḻavu’ in many poems as in Akam.206.11. 
It is thisperforming aspect of maḷḷar that is intended in Kuṟ. 31 in which maḷḷargathering in a viḻavu is mentioned in a poem which describes the heroinesearching for her hero amidst the festival gathering. Here maḷḷar could beplayers of muḻavu or dancers. In this poem the females are supposed to performthe tuṇaṅkai dance. Tuṇaṅkai dance is performed to the accompaniment of muḻavudrum. (See Akam. 336.16.) Going by the colophon of Kuṟ. 31, we can say Akam222.4-7 is related to the event mentioned in Kuṟ. 31. Here the hero is supposedto dance in the festival. (The very name of the hero, Āṭṭaṉ Atti, indicates hewas a dancer. Indeed he exemplifies the dual nature of the maḷḷar.) It isbecause of his performing background, the heroine searches for the hero amongthe gathered maḷḷar and tuṇaṅkai performers. But the commentators simplyinterpret ‘maḷḷar’ in Kuṟ. 31 as warriors. Although ‘maḷḷar’ are depicted aswarriors in other poems, in the poems mentioned above they are performers. Akam189 also indicates that the maḷḷar went from place to place to perform in thefestivals just like other bards did.
Similar to Akam.82.4-9, in Akam. 352.4-7, the dance of a peacock is compared to the performanceby a viṟali, who dances to the percussion of muḻavu by bards called kōṭiyar.The associations revealed by the poems such as those given above argue forconsidering maḷḷar to be both bardic performers as well as warriors. 
Similar to‘maḷḷar’, we also have the word ‘porunar’ which can indicate warriors as wellbards. Maturaikkkāñci 98-104 describes porunar as having ‘muḻavu’ like arms(which is a description characteristic of warriors) and receiving gifts such aselephants and lotuses made of gold (which are typical gifts given to bards)!

In Porunarāṟṟuppaṭai (the guide poem of porunar), the porunaṉ isalso called the leader of ‘kōṭiyar’. In Ciṟupāṇāṟṟuppaṭai which is a guide poemof pāṇar bards, in describing the welcoming nature of the city of the hero, thepoet says the gates of the city are open for porunar bards, poets, and brahminswhich suggests pāṇar and porunar are essentially equivalent. Thus one is led tobelieve that the bards and warriors differed only on the basis of theactivities they engaged in and not in terms of any social origins.

Thanksin advance for any comments.



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