Thagar – is the Tamil word that exactly signifies the Ram – the Mesha that has a strong head with thick horns with which it is known to attack others. It is for this reason this Thagar was used in ram-fights in those days. Thagar means "thagarthal" ( தகர்த்தல்) – 'to break or shatter into pieces'. This variety of goat is known for hitting the opponent by its head. Today this word is not in common use among Tamils and many Tamils don't even know that this word exists in Tamil to mean ram. Today this is known as "Kidaai" (ஆட்டுக் கிடாய்). But the word 'Thagar' is found in Sangam texts thereby showing the popular use of this term 2000 years ago.
The Sangam age text called "Pattinappaalai" sung in praise of Karikal Chola makes a specific mention of a fight between a pair of "Mesha- Thagar" in the capital city of Pumpuhar. It is written as "Mezhaga-th-thagar". "Mezhagam" (மேழகம்) is the Tamilised word for Mesha (mezha + agam = mezhagam = house of mesha). By saying "Mezhaga-thagar" the poet refers to the ram of Mesha rashi, thereby giving no doubt on what the thagar stands for.
The context where this term appears refers to a popular pastime of Pumpuhar on sport events. It involves many kinds of fights between men and between animals of different kinds. The description of these events starts with a comparison with - of all the things - stars and planets. The verse says "like the stars that move in clockwise direction in the vast sky, joining with the planets, the men joined with other men in this stadium". (1)
Stars always move in clockwise direction, but the same cannot be told of planets. This brings in the element of clash between the star that is up in the sky and the planet that joins it below in the opposite direction. This eventually creates friction which is astrologically applicable and the winner is determined by the more powerful between them. It is because of this reason, the poet had compared the combat between men with stars in clockwise and the planets that join them or cross them.
The poem mentions 3 such fights among men (boxing, wrestling and sword fighting) and four among animals. The animal combats involved pigs, cocks, "Mesha – Thagar" and a bird called Sival. (2) These fights are part of 64 forms of arts in ancient Bharat. Even before Ramayana times, these arts were learnt. Sage Rishya Shringa who conducted the Puthra kameshti Yaaga for Dasharatha was lured to come to the city by women who were experts in these arts.
The Mesha -Thagar combat as one among these arts goes farther back to Karthikeya's times as according to Tamil Sangam texts Thagar is the vaahana for Lord Karthikeya, popularly known as Muruga in Tamil lands (3). The Thagar –Mesha – Muruga connection exists because Muruga was born with the aid of Fire- God in high mountains and nurtured by Kritthika stars.
The description of the birth of Karthikeya in Valmiki Ramayana (1-37) has Indra in the company of Fire God leading the other celestials. There is a corroboratory verse in Rig Veda 1-51-1 on Indra that praises him as ram / Mesha adored by many and whose gracious deeds for men spread like heavens abroad. (4)
This shows the combination of Fire + mountain + Kritthika star + Mesha which Karthikeya was associated with and which gave him the nature of combativeness. This combatant mentality is what a person born in Mesha rashi is endowed with. It must be noted here that though Kritthika star is spread into two rashis, the combatant spirit is manifest only in Mesha which has the tendencies of fire and ram, and not in Rishabha. Further explanation of this will be taken up in another article when I will be explaining a verse to this effect from a Sangam text.
By identifying the ram (thagar) as the vaahana for Karthikeya, it can be deduced that the idea of Thagar as Mesha must have come into existence long ago in Tamil lands. . According to Tamils Muruga was not a myth as he was the one who developed the Tamil language along with sage Agasthya and was one among those present in the first assembly of First Sangam in the now submerged South Madurai. Most of the publications of the first Sangam were on Muruga and his escapades. He was one of the early Pandyan kings, known as "Ugra Kumara" born to Meenakshi, the heiress of the Pandyan king Malayadhwaja .The Tamils had nurtured a strong connection with him as he married a local Tamil girl called Valli. The Muruga legend is three-dimensional – as a divinity, as a natural phenomenon and as one who existed in flesh and blood. The Sangam texts speak of him as one who stopped an ocean flood by throwing his spear at it. That was the first flood experienced in Deep South (somewhere near Australia – Sundaland) at the end of Ice age. But South Madurai survived and Tamil Sangam was started after that Flood.
An 8 legged horse Sleipnir is found in Norse Mythology.