[INDOLOGY] Sacrificial Tortoise?

Tieken, H.J.H. H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl
Fri Aug 2 08:10:08 UTC 2013

Earlier I tried to send the mail below to the list, but I think that it went only to Dr. Palaniappan. Therefore I try again. H.T.

Dear Professor Hart,
I am not sure if you have properly understood Akananuru 361. In paraphrase: in the poem a traveler is speaking to his heart, that is, to himself. When he started on his journey he managed to convince himself that work was more important than love. During his travels, however, his heart/he could think only of his wife. All he wanted was to go back home. Now that he is almost home he can stop wanting and longing for her.

If there is any “sarcastic intent” involved it concerns the helplessness of the speaker, or rather, the paradoxical situation he finds himself in. As I have argued elsewhere, always look for the paradox (pace the translation of the Sattasaī by Peter Khoroche and me, and my review of Selby's translation of the Aiṅkuṟunūṟu; for exact references, go to my website: hermantieken.com). I am unable to follow you where you make the gods (periyōr) the object of sarcasm. Probably, however, that has to do with the fact that you put the Tamil poets and the representatives of the Sanskrit tradition in entirely different, if not opposite, worlds. Poems like the one under discussion only show that this position is untenable. See in this connection my “Early Tamil poetics between Nāṭyaśāstra and Rāgamālā” published in the proceedings of a seminar held a few years back in Cambridge. I am unable to supply the bibliographical details as I have not received “my” copy of the book as yet.

I am not a specialist of Vedic ritual, but Palaniappan may well be right about the tortoise. Note that according to theNāṭyaśāstra the stage floor, a mimicry of the sacrificial area, may have the form of a tortoise, that is, sloping to the sides. Probably the verb āra in the poem does not mean “eat” but “be happy, satisfied”, in which case periyōr may well refer to the officiating priests.

Herman Tieken

Herman Tieken
University of Leiden
The Netherlands
website: hermantieken.com<http://hermantieken.com/>
Van: INDOLOGY [indology-bounces at list.indology.info] namens George Hart [glhart at berkeley.edu]
Verzonden: donderdag 1 augustus 2013 20:44
To: Indology List
Onderwerp: 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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