[INDOLOGY] Akananuru Critical Edition and Akam 24

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan palaniappa at aol.com
Mon Apr 30 20:46:16 UTC 2018

In Indology posts long ago, I had suggested that the Tamil word pārppāṉ originally could mean ‘priest’ in general and not ’brahmin’ per se and some of the references to pārppāṉ in Classical Tamil poems could refer to non-brahmin potter priests as in Akam 337 (http://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology_list.indology.info/2013-June/132646.html <http://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology_list.indology.info/2013-June/132646.html>). Similarly I had questioned the reading “veḷāp pārppāṉ” in Akam 24.1 which is usually interpreted/translated as a non-sacrificing brahmin. I had suggested that the original words probably referred to a potter priest. In connection with this, Eva Wilden’s recently published critical edition of the Kaḷiṟṟiyāṉainirai (poems 1-120) part of the Akanāṉūṟu provides important evidence for the case of potter priest in Akam 24.1. 

According to Eva Wilden, the present available manuscripts are not more than about 300 years old. There have been two strands of transmission, a Śaiva one and a Vaiṣṇava one. Wilden has given primary variants from both strands as part of the critical text. See attachment for Akam 24. On Akam 24.1, the Vaiṣṇava strand has the reading vēḷār. The Śaiva strand has vēḷā. But both strands are derived from one original. The difference in readings happened about 300 years ago. But irrespective of the manuscripts of the strand used, all the editors, Raghava Iyengar (RK), Vaiyapuri Pillai (VP), and Murray Rajam (ER), chose to go with the reading vēḷā. This can be seen highlighted on p. 158. Although Eva Wilden finally gives only 'non-sacrificing brahmin’ in the translation on page 160, personally, I believe that since the dominant belief at the time the strands diverged most likely was that pārppāṉ referred to a brahmin, vēḷa should have been the emended version similar to the choice made by the editors of published versions in the 20th century. The variant vēḷār should have been the retained original version since there could be no reason for one to insert the ‘r’ in vēḷār.

The Vēḷārs are potter priests today in Tamil Nadu. Here is a description of the community http://tinyurl.com/ycdvsbkg <http://tinyurl.com/ycdvsbkg>. Tamil Lexicon entry for vēḷāṉ (the singular form of vēḷār) shows the following:
வேளான் vēḷāṉ, n. < id. 1. A caste title; ஒரு சாதிப்பட்டப்பெயர். மதுராந்தக மூவேந்த வேளான் (S. I. I. ii, 10). 2. A title of persons belonging to the Kuyavar caste; குயவரது சாதிப் பட்டப்பெயர். Mod.

Kuyavar are potters. Actually, as I have shown in earlier posts related to potters, the title vēḷāṉ has been associated with chieftains, high officials, as well as potters in medieval inscriptions. The honorific/plural form of vēḷāṉ is vēḷār. (The -āṉ or -ār is a PNG suffix and there is no negation involved here.) So while in modern times, the title could be a caste title, it would be simply a professional/lineage title in Classical Tamil times. In other instances in Classical Tamil, potters are mentioned as vēṭkō (vēḷ+kō), where the first component again is the same as in vēḷār. So in the interlinear English version on p. 159, Wilden’s meaning of ‘vēḷar’ as ‘sacrifice-not-they (h.)’ is not appropriate since there has been no known case of ‘vēḷār’ as a brahmin group. Even in the Cilappatikāram, which talks about a brahmin group that has given up Vedic chanting and taken up music (Cil. 13.38-39), they are not called vēḷār. We already know of potter priests in Classical Tamil as in Naṟṟiṇai 293. So I would suggest 'potter priest' as the meaning for vēḷārp pārppāṉ. (Incidentally, according to Tamil Lexicon, one of the meanings of Ta. verb pār is 'to worship'.)

Interestingly, Āvūr Mūlaṅkiḻār, the author of Akam 24, has authored a Puṟanāṉūṟu poem (no. 166) about a brahmin who performs Vedic rites. So he must have known a brahmin priest as well as a potter priest. In Akam 24, by the use of vēḷārp pārppāṉ, the poet makes it clear that the priest in question is a potter. We should also note that a female priestess in Puṟanāṉūṟu 372 is called vēṇmāḷ (vēḷ+makaḷ). This suggests that the potters officiated as priest (pārppāṉ) in the Tamil society before that role came to be dominated by brahmins.

Thanks to the Vaiṣṇava copyist who copied the manuscript about 300 years ago and Eva Wilden, who has produced the critical edition, we can reconstruct one important aspect of Tamil socio-religious history. 


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