Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dancing dolls (பாவை) of Tamil lands and Minoan culture (Part 29)

Previous articles of this series can be read here.

As proof for the migration of Tamils or connection between Tamils and Cretans / Minoans,  let me show the following figurines unearthed in Minoan civilisation of Crete. 

A female with raised hands and having a cylindrical body below the waist is shown here. Many figurines like this have been found in Crete. 

Another image is shown below.

No one knows what these figures are and why they look like this, with raised hands and cylindrical lower body.

For Tamil people this figure is not new, for these are commonly found “dancing doll” girls in the Tamil society. Until a generation ago, these dolls were there in almost every house and displayed at the time of Golu (9 day Navaratri festival). These dolls are popularly known as Tanjore dancing dolls as they are made in Tanjore, Tamilnadu. It is shown below.

The dancing doll is seen with the feet in the above picture. The Minoan dolls also are shown with feet. Take a look at the picture below.

In two of the figurines shown on the left, the feet are seen. From this it is known that the body is a mould and the person gets inside the mould and makes gestures with hands. Though the feet are not seen in other figures, it is deduced from these 2 figures that the cylindrical covering is long enough to cover the feet inside. The 2 figures also show that these are either dolls or depiction of dancing girls wearing long and stiff-looking gowns. This is the same idea behind the dancing dolls of the Tamil society.

Taking a closer look at the Tanjore doll, it looks exactly similar to Minoan figure which is nothing but a doll.

Minoan doll.

Tanjore dancing doll.

In this dancing doll from Tamil tradition, the body is made of three parts – (1) a cylindrical bottom from waist down, (2) the chest portion with hands in some gesture – mostly as shown above, which is a posture of Gods bestowing blessings {this is also a dance pose} and (3) the head. All these are detachable but inserted one above the other.

The thin waist with cylindrical bottom is the lower part. The chest with hands is another part that is loosely sitting on the waist. Each part can be made to sway by a gentle touch. It would look as though the girl in the doll is making some dance moves. The head is another detachable piece that would shake as in a dance, when touched. It is common to find these dolls in rural Tamilnadu even today. 

(Dancing dolls for sale in a shop near a temple in Tamilnadu)

One of the figurines found in Minoan culture is without the head but with a neck formation that shows that the head was separate and could be inserted on the neck. Take a look at that figurine here:

In this figure there is no sign of loss of head due to damage to the figurine. The neck part is neatly made and is seen with a nail-like projection. The head can be fitted on this neck. This is same as how the dancing dolls of Tamil lands are seen. The above doll also exhibits a dancing gesture.

In the dancing doll of Tamil lands, a gentle tap on one of these parts would make it sway as though the doll is dancing. Particularly the tap on the head would make the doll sway in a way similar to how the Bharatanatyam dancers used to move their head.{ Bharata Natyam is a traditional dance of Tamilnadu.}

Bharata Natyam poses are seen in Cretan figurines. For example the following figurine from Crete is how a Bharata Natyam dancer would greet (Namaskar) in the beginning of a dance performance. The gesture is similar to a part of a sequence of Namaskar or paying obeisance to God and teacher in the beginning of a performance by a Bharatanatyam dancer.

 Shown below is how it is done in Bharatnatya dance.

The Cretan figure is a male. Males also did Bharata natyam.  Lord Shiva was the foremost deity known for dancing. He was given the first salutation in the Namaskar shown above. But the dancing doll moulds were always that of a female. I have not yet seen any Minoan dancing doll (discussed above) with a male body. It is always a female. The reason will be discussed below after showing another Minoan figurine in Bharat Natyam pose.

The shorter one in the above image is also a part of pose in the Bharatnatyam dance.
Some of the Bharat natyam  poses that show similarity with Cretan poses are shown below.

The presence of dancing dolls and Bharatanatyam poses in Crete in a period before the Odyssey was written and Greek myths were made, shows the influence of a much developed Tamil culture in the pre-Greek society. Speaking from the core topic of this series, the dance practices do not start on any day but on astrologically significant days. If this dance form had gone to Minoan society, the astrological ideas on choosing auspicious dates also could have gone there at that time itself – that is, before Hellenistic astrology was formed.

Tracing the origins of these dancing dolls and why they are only female moulds with a cylindrical gown, there are clues from the 1st century AD Tamil text of Silappadhikaram. (1)   According to it there were 11 types of dance forms in existence in the Tamil society. (My article on them can be read here). The description of the dances and music and musical instruments in that text goes to prove that these dances were well developed by that time.

Of the 11 dances, the 10th one is known as “Paavai-k-kootthu” (பாவைக் கூத்து). Paavai means “woman”, it also means “doll”. The dance of a female in the form of a doll was Paavai-k-kootthu.  

It was originally attributed to “SeyyOL” (செய்யோள்), a form of Goddess Lakshmi who took up the form of a doll and danced in front of the ashuras (enemies). This type of dance is known as “VinOdha-k-kootthu” (வினோதக் கூத்து) or “peculiar dance” that deludes the onlooker into wondering what it was actually in front of him, making peculiar moves but with rhythm. 

When the enemies were enticed by this dance, the Goddess killed them. That is why this doll was also known as “kolli-p-paavaiகொல்லிப் பாவை (the doll that kills). Sangam Tamil texts speak of such dolls of huge size fixed on the slopes of Western Ghats to discourage enemies or trespassers. It must be noted here that the period of this dance called Kolli-p-paavai goes far before 2000 years BP.  This dance does not exist today, but the model of the dancer exists as the dancing doll. 

In this context I must bring out a similarity in this name and the form of the cylindrical gown as found in far away cultures from Indian to Pacific Ocean.
Looking at the name, Kolli-p-paavai, (the doll that kills) the word “kol” (கொல்) is a Tamil word meaning “to kill”. 

From this word, the name of the Goddess in Tamil “KoRRavai” (கொற்றவை) is formed.
Kol+ thavvai = koRRavai. It means kill+ woman = the woman who kills.
(KoRRavai also means mother or elder sister or Jyeshta Devi, the elder sister of Lakshmi. In Tamil she is called as “Moodevi”).
There are numerous references to KoRRavai in Sangam Tamil texts. Her image was worshiped where there was plunder, war and death. Today these deities are called by a general name Amman.

Other derivations from the word “kol” exist in Tamil. There is a class of people by name “kollan” (கொல்லன்) who are engaged in smithy works. About 2000 years ago in the Sangam age, a Kollan’s  primary occupation was cutting, welding and shaping weapons of war. Perhaps the word “kol” meaning “to kill” was associated with heating, beating and cutting the weapons of war. There are places “Kollam”, “Kolli hill” and “Kollur” in the Western Ghats of which the last two are associated with the Goddess that kills. It was in this section of the mountains, the Sangam texts say that huge Kolli-p-paavai images were kept to drive out enemies. 

It is surprising to see this name “Kolla” appear in the pre-Incan regions of the Andes in South America!
Kolla people in the pre-Incan civilisation were known for putting their dead in cylindrical towers known as Chullpa. Kolla, cylindrical shape and death make an amazing connection with Kolli-p-paavai.
Few images of these Chullpas are shown here. 

The cylindrical shape of Chullpas and the association of Kolla people with them make me wonder whether this speaks of an early Tamil practice by which the people associated with dead were known by the name “kol” and the cylindrical tower signified death.

 In the story of Goddess SeyyOL, her dancing form as Kolli-p-paavai must have had a huge cylindrical structure as her gown. We can visualise such a figure with the cylindrical Chullpa as the lower body. A rough image is made as shown below.

The Cretan figurines are a miniature version of this. The Kolli-p-paavai of the Tamil Sangam age was also something similar to this. Imagine someone getting into a huge body like this and making rhythmic moves, it would have caught the attention of the warring people. That is what is described for the dance of this kind done for the first time by the female deity, SeyyOL.

The cylindrical funerary must have had its genesis in Sundaland dotted with volcanoes and less space for the disposal of dead bodies. The cylindrical shape of the Chullpas and the way the Chullpas are found in the Andes on the path of the vents of Sajama volcano (read here) make me think that the Kollas must have originated in the volcanoes filled region of the Sundaland. The dead bodies of the elites would have been interned into volcanic hills for preservation in Sundaland. As such the huge cylindrical bodies could have been associated with death. When the Indian ocean / south east Asian population was disturbed by deluges, Kollas had shifted to as far as South America and made cylindrical funerary in the image of volcanoes.

The ancient Tamils had been living in the region close to the Volcano – abundant Sundaland. The idea of the dancing doll of death with cylindrical body is apt to create fear in the people of that region. The Kolli-p-paavai concept fulfilled that purpose. Similar dolls could have found its way in Crete only through the people who had known or been exposed to that concept before. Such figurines are found in many numbers in Crete shows that they could have either been venerated as deities as was the case in Tamil lands or were just used as dolls which was also the case in Tamil lands.

Another figurine found in Crete of the same period shows similarity with the Goddess Jyeshta Devi who was known as KoRRavai – the killer deity - in Tamil. It is shown below.

For comparison Jyeshta Devi in Indian temples is shown below. She has a fat body with huge breasts, stomach and thighs.

The killer dance is no longer in vogue today. Other dances such as “Horse dance” or “parrot dance” (shown at the end of this post) are still being done in Tamil nadu. But this dance is no longer performed. One reason could have been the death concept related to this dance. In its place, dancing dolls have been brought. Their use mostly in the religious festival of Navaratri shows the reverence connected to this figure.  

On the topic of dance, I would like point out a feature from ancient Tamil culture that finds a resonance in Minoan culture.  In Sangam age, some dancers engaged in enticing men or in prostitution did not cover their breasts in ancient Tamil society. It would shocking for Tamil people themselves to know this, but there are references in Sangam Tamil text of women covering their breast with saffron or sindhur powder! That means they did not cover the breast with any cloth or anything that can hide. One can see many such dancing women in temple architecture in Tamilnadu with bare breasts but plenty of ornaments around the neck, shoulders and waist. Waist clothes were of course worn.

If we do a careful reading of those passages in the Tamil texts we would know that not all women were bare-breasted, but only those who were into enticing others. They had their breasts covered or smeared with aromatic red powder. There was something called as “Thoyyil” (தொய்யில்) which is a painting done on breasts. The Tamil Sangam text called “Madurai-k-Kanchi” on Pandyan King Nedum chezhiyan of the 3rd century BCE, speaks about some women who had their breasts painted with Thoyyil. (2) 

The Kamba Ramayana (Ramayana in Tamil written about 1000 years ago) also makes a reference to some people being bare-breasted where it says that the wind dried up the kum-kum smeared on the breast of these women. (3)  
(This is not found in Valmiki Ramayana. The Tamil version records the practice found among Tamils.)

It would be shocking to know that similar reference is found in Abhirami Andhathi (4)  and Thiruppugazh (5) the songs dedicated to Goddesses and Gods and sung with devotion even today. But we can see that the reference in these contexts were to female deity, a vanquisher of enemies. The primordial form of the female deity was perhaps the Kolli-p-paavai who killed the demons by doing the Paavai-k-kootthu (Doll- dance) of the type explained above. Perhaps to entice and delude the demons, she appeared with bare-breast painted with kum-kum. Such references are not there for other Goddesses. This goes to strengthen our contention that the Doll- dance was the Paavai-k-kootthu done to trap the evil ones and vanquish them. The Minoan dolls are similar to these dolls of Tamil lands. And Minoan art also shows girls with bare-breast.

The following image shows the bare breasted woman in Kolli-p-paavai pose with a killer intention. The snakes in her hand require a different explanation which I will write in the context of Kirata – Yavana connection to Greece that came through North West India. 

In the Minoan painting below, three girls are shown. The scene looks like a dance. In the Tamil culture, only the enticing dancers were bare-breasted. This scene could perhaps be similar to that.

In another painting shown below, the gown worn by the girls is similar the Doll- dancer gown. 

The scene shows a leisurely time of girls whose main occupation seem to be pleasure games. It is not right to take this as a standard Minoan culture, because there are other paintings that show women as fully dressed.

Take a look at the picture below.

She is fully dressed with ear ornaments, bangles and necklaces. The dress resembles North Indian style. This style is still vogue in North India. How this style had co-existed with the bare-breasted ones is a question which can be convincingly answered when we bring in Kirata- Yavana migration to this part of the Mediterranean from India. We will discuss it in another post.

 In the picture below, the bare breasted girl who is collecting saffron is also wearing bangles and  ear ornaments which are a sign of Vedic culture. 

This girl has a typical Indian look.  A bare breasted girl collecting something (saffron)  in the wild could be connected with the natural dyes or colours they needed for painting their body or dolls. In the Minoan dancing doll, one can see decoration on the breast something similar to “Thoyyil” of Tamil Sangam age. Perhaps this is how the art work on the breast was done. This also shows one of the uses for the saffron they collected.  The Minoan doll with painted breast is shown below.

This kind of Doll dances are speciality of Tamil lands and continue even today as folk dances.  A sample of the “Doll horse dance” is shown below.

This is from Srilanka.

The following shows how the dance is done.

There had been Parrot dances too. The list goes on.

Moving on further, I wish to show Tamil connection on Bull games of Minoan culture in the next post.


(1) “Silappadhikaram” chapter 6.  

(2) தொய்யில் பொறித்த சுணங்கு எதிர் இள முலை.” (Maduraik kaanchi 416). 

(3)  Kamba Ramayana verse 4257.

பாசிழை மடந்தையர் பகட்டு வெம் முலை
பூசிய சந்தனம், புழுகு, குங்குமம்,
மூசின முயங்கு சேறு உலர, மொண்டு உற
வீசின, நறும் பொடி விண்டு, வாடையே.

(4) Abhirami andhathi 85
பார்க்கும் திசைதொறும் பாசாங்குசமும் பனிச்சிறை வண்டு
ஆர்க்கும் புதுமலர் ஐந்தும் கரும்பும் என் அல்லல் எல்லாம்
தீர்க்கும் திரிபுரையாள் திருமேனியும் சிற்றிடையும்
வார்க்குங்கும முலையும் முலைமேல் முத்து மாலையுமே

(5) Thiruppugazh paadal 32

முருகொடு கலந்த சந்தனஅளருப டுகுங்கு மங்கமழ்
முலைமுக டுகொண்டெ ழுந்தொறு ...... முருகார

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