[INDOLOGY] Sacrificial Tortoise?

palaniappa at aol.com palaniappa at aol.com
Fri Aug 2 03:16:27 UTC 2013


There is a fundamental problem with the translation. According to Staal, whom I quoted earlier, (and Mr. Thottam Krishnan Nambudirit, who has participated in Agnicayana) the tortoise is not cooked or burnt as an offering. It is buried under the altar. According to Mr. Nambudiri, the expectation is that the tortoise will burrow out of the earth and go away. Hence we have the story of the tortoise trying to run away from Janaka.

Tortoise are known for their aestivation. They do it when the weather gets unduly hot or cold. In this case, what is different from their natural behavior is that it is buried not of its own volition and possibly out of season. To the extent its bodily mechanisms are not in a mode of hibernation, and it has been captured, separated from its home pond and brought near the sacrificial mound - not pit - it is suffering till it gets out of the burial area, if it manages to do so. But it is not being burnt in the sacrificial fire. So I do not think there is a sarcasm intended here contrasting the uncharred flower against the charred tortoise consumed by the gods.

Tamil commentators who were not familiar with the agnicayana ritual has misinterpreted the poem by having 'tittiyam maṭutta yāmai' instead of 'tittiyam aṭutta yāmai'. The tortoise is not 'fed' to the gods, it is only near the sacrificial mound.  


-----Original Message-----
From: George Hart <glhart at berkeley.edu>
To: Indology List <indology at list.indology.info>
Sent: Thu, Aug 1, 2013 1:44 pm
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Sacrificial Tortoise?

Thanks to everyone for intriguing and useful replies. The poem is interesting enough, I think, to quote in its entirety, along with the text (from Project Madurai). I am grateful to V. S. Rajam for pointing out the use of words that is the key to the poem.  The original says "flowers that do not char," not "flowers that do not wither," as the commentators would have it, and the gods are described as periyōr, "great ones," probably with sarcastic intent.  One can imagine the gods coming and consuming the poor tortoise that has been cooked alive in the pit without even their flowers getting scorched by the heat.  It is also notable that the sacrifice is likened to the wilderness, a barren, uncivilized place, while the pond from which the tortoise has been taken is compared to the civilized, family life that the hero has left behind.  I would certainly agree with Jean-Luc that our sympathies are supposed to be with the tortoise.  George

361. Pālai
The hero, who has left (the heroine) to go for wealth, speaks to his heart as he is going.

As they dart on her lovely face, the cool, exuberant eyes of my woman
are like dark-petaled waterlily flowers tied together
over the pure flower of a lotus. Her wrists wear fine bangles, her lips are beautiful.
She gets angry if there is even the distance of a thread separating us
when I embrace her ample breasts encircled by a band.	5
But when I told you kindly that there is nothing more wonderful
than knowing the joy of such great passion, you didn’t agree,
O deluded heart so anxious to acquire wealth!
Now, you must not be like the tortoise longing to go
to its wide, shadowed pond after it’s been put in a fiery sacrificial pit	10
as food for the great beings whose flowers never char in the heat.
You must stop thinking of the arms
of our woman whose words are few,
whose teeth are like thorns,
for we have suffered and crossed into the wide wasteland	15
filled with mountains and burning hills.
Eyiṉantai Makaṉār Iḷaṅkīraṉār
This poem seems to be a subtle but effective put-down of the Vedic sacrifice, perhaps because its author was influenced by Jaina or Buddhist thought.  It is notable that the sacrificial pit with its fire is compared to the wilderness while the tortoise who is about to be burned alive normally lives in a place likened to civilized, family life.

5. “Band” is vār, which was apparently tied around the breasts to keep them from sagging, much like a brassiere.
9. “You must not be” is added.
11. One of the characteristics of the gods in Hinduism is that their garlands never fade.  “Great beings” is periyōr, “great ones,” probably used here with sarcastic intent, and “never char” is kariyā, which the commentaries take as “unwithering” (even though that is not one of its meanings).  I am grateful to V. S. Rajam for pointing out that the commentators seem to have missed the sarcastic intent here.  One can imagine the gods coming and consuming the poor tortoise that has been cooked alive in the pit without even their flowers getting scorched by the heat.

மாஇதழ்க் குவளை மலர்பிணைத் தன்ன 
திருமுகத்து அலமரும் பெருமதர் மழைக்கண் 
அணிவளை முன்கை ஆயிதழ் மடந்தை 
வார்முலை முற்றத்து நூலிடை விலங்கினும்	 5
கவவுப்புலந்து உறையும் கழிபெருங் காமத்து 
இன்புறு நுகர்ச்சியிற் சிறந்ததொன்று இல்லென 
அன்பால் மொழிந்த என்மொழி கொள்ளாய்
பொருள்புரி வுண்ட மருளி நெஞ்சே!-
கரியாப் பூவின் பெரியோர் ஆர	 10
அழலெழு தித்தியம் மடுத்த யாமை 
நிழலுடை நெடுங்கயம் புகல்வேட் டாஅங்கு 
உள்ளுதல் ஓம்புமதி இனிநீ முள்ளெயிற்றுச்
சின்மொழி அரிவை தோளே- பன்மலை 
வெவ்வறை மருங்கின் வியன்சுரம் 
எவ்வம் கூர இறந்தனம் யாமே!	 16

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