Nacciṉārkkiṉiyar (N) seems to have interpreted the word koṇṭi as ‘plunder’ and has applied that meaning to interpret the occurrences of the word in Paṭṭīṉappālai 212 and 246. That the meaning of koṇṭi in Paṭ. 212 is simply ‘wealth’ is obvious as many modern commentators have correctly interpreted. But, still they follow N in his interpretation of Pat. 246, which in my opinion is unwarranted.


Here is a quick translation of Paṭ. 207-212 where the text describes the living area of traders in the port city of Pukār


And the area where the traders with ancient wealth live in large numbers,

who are impartial, good-hearted,

being afraid of reproach, speaking the truth,

seeing own goods and those of others in the same way,

without taking excess (of what is right) and giving less (than what is right)

giving many kinds of goods announcing their prices…


‘Ancient wealth’ is my translation of ‘tol koṇṭi’.


N explains ‘tol koṇṭi’ as ‘ancient plunder’ (paḻaitākiya koḷḷaiyiṉaiyum). He goes on to explain the poet’s rationale for using the word ‘koṇṭi’ here in the following words. “koḷḷaiyeṉṟār, inneṟiyai naṭattiṉāriṭattallatu poruṭṭiraḷuṇṭākāteṉṟaṟku.” N seems to say that one can accumulate wealth only if you follow the path of plunder! This is in spite of the fact that the text goes to extraordinary lengths to describe the ethical trade practices of the traders of Pukār.


U.Vē. Cāminātaiyar, the editor of the text, intervenes to explain N’s use of koḷḷai with a note saying ‘koḷḷai – mikuti’ meaning ‘abundance’. This really does not justify N’s explanation.


In contrast to N and U.Vē.Cā, Rā. Raghavaiyaṅkār explains ‘tol koṇṭi’ as ‘toṉṟutoṭṭuvanta celvattiraḷ’ meaning ‘the accumulated wealth from ancient times’, which makes sense. Perumaḻaippulavar explains it as ‘toṉṟutoṭṭu īṭṭiya poruḷ’ meaning ‘the wealth earned from ancient times’ which makes sense too. While these commentators give the correct meaning, they do not discuss the error of N’s interpretation and when it comes to Paṭ. 246, they simply follow N’s interpretation.


Paṭ. 246-249 describe some women who take bath in a waterbody which is used by the people for drinking water, smear the floor and decorate with flowers and light lamps in the evening at a temple with a sacred pillar that is worshipped by many and where travelers come and stay. The text uses the term ‘koṇṭi makaḷir’ to denotes these women. With his predilection for the meaning ‘plunder’ for ‘koṇṭi’, N goes on to explain ‘koṇṭi makaḷir’ as women of the household of the kings captured by the Cōḻa king and forced into working at the temple. According to N, the Cōḻa king thought that his fame would increase as a result.


Unfortunately, this idea of captive royal women being forced into being temple women (and by extension devadāsis) has been unquestioningly accepted by all modern commentators. The real meaning of ‘koṇṭi makaḷir’ becomes clear from the names of some high status individuals we come across in inscriptions. For example, consider these names:


When the names Uyyakkoṇṭi and Uyyakkoṇṭāṉ are compared, it becomes clear that koṇṭi is synonymous with koṇṭāṉ just like āṇṭi is synonymous with āṇṭāṉ. But koṇṭi and āṇṭi are used for both masculine and feminine names, but koṇṭāṉ and āṇṭāṉ are used only for masculine names. The name ‘uyyakkoṇṭāṉ’ means ‘One who took possession of the person, who gets salvation’. Thus, koṇṭi is either a ‘lord’ or ‘lady’ depending on the context. What has happened between the time of the Paṭṭiṉappālai and the medieval inscriptions, koṇṭi which was used to refer to ‘wealth’ (or possession) was metonymically used to refer to one who possessed wealth (lord or lady). If we were to consider the singular form of koṇṭi makaḷir, i.e., koṇṭi makaḷ in Classical Tamil times, it is equivalent to koṇṭi in medieval inscriptions. So, koṇṭi makaḷir in Paṭ. 246 meant ‘ladies’.


Thus, the persons Paṭ. 246 refers to were very highly respected women who were temple functionaries. They were not captive women forced to being temple workers. It is not that the Tamil kings were very gentle towards the royal women of the defeated kings. Classical Tamil poems mention ropes being made from the hair of defeated royal women. Medieval inscriptions mention royal women being captured and moved to the victor’s ‘vēḷam’. Some defeated royal women’s noses were cut.  But, there is no epigraphic record of any captured royal women being forced into being temple workers.


I welcome comments.


Thanks in advance.