Paavi nOnbu is an important tradition in the lives of Tamils from times of antiquity.
The memory of it exists till today, thanks to AndaaL who immortalized that memory in her composition, Thiruppavai.
It is a matter of interest and inquisitiveness why this nOnbu was performed.
It is our fortune that olden compositions describing this nOnbu still exist with us.
The most detailed account of this nOnbu and the nOnbu done in the month of தை (known as தை- நீராடல் ) are found in பரிபாடல் !
Of the 70 compositions in Paripaadal,
dedicated to திருமால் , செவ்வேள் (Murugan) and
the river வைகை running in மதுரை ,
only 22 compositions are available with us in complete form.
Parts of another 11 compositions as quoted
by other authors of olden texts are also available.
They help us in knowing the culture and tradition
of Tamils who lived 2000 years ago.
We can say for sure that Paripaadal was composed more than 2000 years ago,
because the 11th composition that speaks about the glory of the river Vaigai
begins with the astro details as existed at that time.
It was the beginning of the Rainy season in that year
and composition details the customs that were followed
for the next 6 months (ending with the month of Thai)
with the river as an essential entity in the customs.
It is in exploring the verses of the 11th composition
with the aid of commentary written by none other than
பரிமேலழகர் (who has written commentary for திருக்குறள் also),
we come across the details of how the பாவை நோன்பு
and the 'தை - நீராடல் ' were performed.
This composition was written by
Isai – நாகனார் ,
PaN – பாலை யாழ்
First let us know the time period of this composition
so that we will know how old was this tradition.
The sky map constructed from the details of the first part of this composition
is given below.
From this it is ascertained that the year was 161 BC.
That was Kaliyugapthi 2,941. (The present kali year is 5110)
It was the year of Pramaadhi,
12th day in the solar month of AavaNi,
with moon in Avitta in Chathurdasi.
The rainy season (கார் காலம் ) began on this day as per tradition.
'Iv- aaru' here means as per tradition or destiny
making it appear that a good and bountiful rainy season is pre-determined
due to some reason.
We will discuss that in the next post.
The planetary position shows a bountiful rainy season.
It was because all the causes that facilitate such a season had existed the year before!
That is what paavai nonbu is about – a contributive factor in rainfall.
The details of that will be taken up in the next post
And the present post is an introductory one for that.
Without knowing what Paavai nOnbu is about,
we can not say how it is a contributive factor in rainfall.
மார்கழி arrives after a long spell of bountiful rains.
The river வைகை is full and at many places it looks muddy in color
as the sediments have not yet settled down.
The mornings are cold and waters are ice-cold.
And the fogs have not started.
It is time for doing a vratham or நோன்பு or the austerity
which requires the doer to control the senses.
It is time give up regular wishes such as beautifying oneself with decorative.
On the day of Full moon when moon enters Arudra (thiruvadirai)
the nOnbu begins.
(this tallies with the time as 'மதி நிறைந்த நன்னாள் '
as indicated in the 1st verse of Thiruppavai)
Parimelazhagar says that Maargazhi is known as "குளம் "
because the moon is Arudra and the sun is in Poorvashada (pooradam).
Arudra stands for rainfall.
The day of entry of the sun in Arudra determines the rainfall
for the whole year according to Varsha-phalan.
The moon is without "களங்கம் " – getting full in brightness.
It is aspected by the sun which has now taken position in the star Poorada
that ensures water.
The month when this happens is like a 'குளம் '-
as all tanks and water bodies are full by the time Margazhi arrives.
It is known as 'குளம் ' for another reason also.
The water is not fast but it gently moves along the breeze.
It is also not deep but sufficient enough to take a dip.
It is safe for the young girls to play as they take bath.
That is also why this month came to be called as குளம்
In this month, on the day of Full moon,
Vediks begin 'விழவு ' –thiruvizha (festival)
This is described like this in பரிபாடல் .
மா இருந் திங்கள் மறு நிறை ஆதிரை விரிநூல்
அந்தணர் விழவு தொடங்க, புரி நூல் அந்தணர் பொலம் கலம் ஏற்ப,
'வெம்பாதாக, வியல் நில வரைப்பு!' என 80
அம்பா ஆடலின் ஆய் தொடிக் கன்னியர், முனித் துறை முதல்வியர் முறைமை காட்ட, பனிப் புலர்பு ஆடி, பரு மணல் அருவியின் ஊதை ஊர்தர,
உறை சிறை வேதியர் நெறி நிமிர்
நுடங்கு அழல் பேணிய சிறப்பின், 85
தையல் மகளிர் ஈர் அணி புலர்த்தர,
வையை! நினக்கு மடை வாய்த்தன்று.
மையாடல் ஆடல் மழ புலவர் மாறு எழுந்து,
பொய் ஆடல் ஆடும் புணர்ப்பின் அவர்,
அவர் தீ எரிப் பாலும் செறி தவம் முன் பற்றியோ, 90
தாய் அருகா நின்று தவத் தைந் நீராடுதல்?
நீ உரைத்தி, வையை நதி!
On the day of Full moon in Maargazhi,
young unmarried girls accompanied by their mothers go to the Vaigai.
'அம்பா ஆடலின் ஆய் தொடிக் கன்னியர'
(அம்பா - mother )
They go with the prayer that the land be cool as how they experience then,
with the sun not scorching them as it used to do in other times.
That is, the prayer is for a cool and damp weather
that can happen only if the preceding rainy season was satisfactory
So the prayer is indirectly for good rains
and also for a mighty sun that shines well but not scorch the land!
The girls are accompanied by முனித் துறை முதல்வியர் -
the elderly Brahmin women who guide them on how to do that nOnbu.
Accordingly, the girls take bath in the cold waters of the river
which is brushed by a gentle breeze.
The girls the join their mothers and follow the instructions to do the prayer.
Then they circumambulate the Homa- agni
(ஹோம குண்டம that were constructed on the banks by the Vediks )
with the wet cloths on
Paripaadal says that they have their wet cloths getting dried up
in the heat of the Homa-agni.
The Vaigai absorbs the vapor from the drying cloths and
also the homa smoke.
That is the ஹவிஸ் for the river.
This is how the Paavai nOnbu is done in Maargazhi,
on the first day of Full moon.
Paripaadal does not say about making the 'paavai'.
But other texts do tell about that.
From other texts we come to know that young unmarried girls
go to the river banks on other days too.
The elders do not accompany them.
The girls go to the river bank accompanied by their friends.
There they make the 'பாவை ' – the image of a girl on the sand
and offer flowers to it.
After this they enter the river water, splash and play in the water.
It looks as though the water is playing with them.
தண்கயம் ஆடும் மகளிரொடு கைபிணைந்து,
தழுவுவழித் தழீஇத், தூங்குவழித் தூங்கி,
மறைஎனல் அறியா மாயமில் ஆயமொடு உயர்சினை)
The water play is an important feature as it is told in other verses too.
From Purananuru -11:-
வால் இழை, மட மங்கையர்
வரி மணற் புனை பாவைக்குக்
குலவுச் சினைப் பூக் கொய்து
The paavai they make is sometimes destroyed by
the flowing water of Vaigai- making the girls cry.
From Paripaadal 7:-
'மாதர் மடநல்லார், மணலின் எழுதிய 25
பாவை சிதைத்தது' என அழ, '
பாவை சிதைத்தது' என அழ, '
But making the paavai and bathing in the river were important scenes seen in Maargazhi.
This is told in a sutra 1369, in Pingala nigandu
"pani neer thOidalum, paavai aadalum" .
The pleasant screams and cries of the young girls
as they shake in the cold waters of the river
is a routine scene in pre-dawn of Maargazhi in those days.
The girls are left to play in the river because the water level is that of a 'kuLam'
This is known from the commentary on Thai neeradal!
The conditions have changed as Thai ushers in.
The water in Thai is crystal clear.
The river is calm and it is time for 'தவத்தை ஆடல் ' –
It is a tapas, a thavam or a time of prayer.
தவத்தை நீராடல் (bathing as a tapas) is done as a continuation of
மார்கழி பனி -நீராடல் . (bathing in cold water)
Paripaadal describes like this.
The girls make merry in the waters in the month of Thai with "பொய்யாடல்".
The dance is பொய்யாடல் " – not a true reflection of what it seems to convey.
பரிமேலழகர் describes that the dances or / and the moves
that the girls make while dancing
have no shred of 'காமம் ' exhibited in them.
The moves done by the girls are very innocent,
for which one can not attribute any idea of love or sexual desire in them.
Probably the dances were on love themes
but the moves by the girls seemed to suggest that they are not love-struck.
That is why the dance was called "பொய்யாடல் "
After the dances on the banks and in the waters as they take bath,
the girls join their mothers and follow the instruction in prayers.
The ஹோம – அக்னி is made on the banks by the Vediks and
The girls and married women circumambulate it
and pray to Vaigai!
An amazing part of this prayer is that it is addressed to the river Vaigai
with a plea to the river to tell her (the girl)
what good she has done to do that நோன்பு there.
Is it because it was done by her in her earlier births too?
(Does the river remember her as one who prayed in an earlier birth?)
The Nonbu that begins with a prayer to have the world cool at all times
ends in Thai with a prayer for a happy married life.
The water in Thai is clear,
therefore it is the right one to absorb the wishes exactly.
From Paripaadal 11 :-
The married woman prays that her husband's love for her never diminishes.
She prays that he never leaves her.
Some married women pray that they as a couple would remain youthful for long,
even after the wife attains the last and the 7th stage of womanhood (of பேரிளம் பெண் ) (1)
They also pray for prosperity in the company of relatives.
From Paripaadal 11:-
விழுத் தகை பெறுக!" என வேண்டுதும்' என்மாரும்,
'பூ வீழ் அரியின் புலம்பப் போகாது,
யாம் வீழ்வார், ஏமம் எய்துக!' என்மாரும்,
' "கிழவர் கிழவியர்" என்னாது, ஏழ்காறும், 120
மழ ஈன்று மல்லற் கேள் மன்னுக!" என்மாரும்_____
After the prayer, they play music in the பாலை யாழ் set to 'பரி பாடல் '.
There is no mention of prayer by unmarried girls here.
The girls who pray there are attractive and young
They are already married and pray for a happy life with their spouse.
They sing that they had prayed to the Vaigai like that in the previous birth.
They are praying now.
Let Vaigai make them come to her (the river) and pray again in a future birth too.
மறு முறை அமையத்தும் இயைக!
நறு நீர் வையை நயத் தகு நிறையே! 140
Thus ends the Thai neeradal.
Some observations are :-
(1) In maargazhi, both married and unmarried women perform the nOnbu.
(2) The unmarried girls make the paavai as a girl's play and worship that.
That is perhaps to get her used to a habit of praying for happy married life
once she gets married.
So the girl who accompanies her mother right from young days
and does on her part the playful prayer to the paavai,
continues to come after her marriage with a serious and heart-felt prayer
for a happy life with the husband.
(3) The prayer in Maargazhi is obviously for Nature
that is cool and shining simultaneously.
The prayer in Thai is a prayer for oneself.
Marriage takes importance in that.
(4) The prayer by married woman was perhaps an inspiration for girls
who are waiting to be married –
that they would pray for marrying a suitable groom.
Andaal's prayer was such that.
சிலப்பதிகாரம் also reports a நோன்பு of the தை நீராடல் kind.
A Brahmin girl by name தேவந்தி tells கண்ணகி
that the root cause of her suffering of separation from கோவலன்
(who went after மாதவி )
was perhaps due to not doing a nOnbu in her previous birth,
that was meant for a happy married life.
It is possible to assume that Devandhi meant the Maargazhi and Thai nOnbu.
Because the nOnbu she mentioned was also about
bathing in the river and praying for happy married life.
Only the scene was different.
Bathing must be done in சங்கம் of river காவேரி (where it joins the sea)
and also includes a dip in the scared waters of
சூர்ய குண்டம் and சோம குண்டம் (Chandra kund).
The prayer is directed to the Lord of Love, மன்மதன் .
The prayer is for a happy married life
and also for a rebirth in 'Bhoga bhoomi' in her next birth
to lead a happy life with husband.
பொய்த்தாய் பழம்பிறப்பில் போய்க்கெடுக உய்த்துக்
கடலொடு காவிரி சென்றுஅலைக்கும் முன்றில்
மடல்அவிழ் நெய்தல்அம் கானல் தடம்உள
சோமகுண்டம் சூரிய குண்டம் துறைமூழ்கிக்
காமவேள் கோட்டம் தொழுதார் கணவரொடு 60
தாம்இன் புறுவர் உலகத்துத் தையலார்
போகம்செய் பூமியினும் போய்ப்பிறப்பர் யாம்ஒருநாள்
ஆடுதும் என்ற அணிஇழைக்குஅவ் ஆய்இழையாள்'
The customs around the nOnbu was like this (as reported in Silappadhikaram)
after a few centuries of Paripaadal times.
(Kanangi's time was sometime in 2nd century AD)
After a 1000 years, it became a blend of
Maargazhi paavai nOnbu and
the tradition that existed in Silappadhikaram times.
The paavai nOnbu was followed by prayer to Manmatha –
instead of the prayer to the river
That is what we know from Thiruppavai.
Another 1000 years later – that is in the present times -
we have to be just content with the thought
that we at least know that such a tradition existed for very long in this land.
Even if some one wishes to do the paaavi nOnbu,
where is the flowing Vaigai?
Where are the rivers?
Where are the seasonal rains?
What have we to pray?
With matrimonial discord rising among the population,
with Nature not being seasonal and helpful,
do we know what we want?
(to be continued)
(1) The 7 stages in the life of a woman are
பேதை , பெதும்பை , மங்கை , மடந்தை ,
அரிவை, தெரிவை and பேரிளம் பெண்