Saturday, January 4, 2014

Is Vedic astrology derived from Greek astrology? (Part 24) (Lamps and zodiac - from Tamil lands to Greece)

Previous articles of this series can be read here.

In this post let us see some more connections between Tiryns culture and Tamil culture.
In the last post we saw the Tamil connection to Megaron at Tiryns. There is also a place called “Megara” very close to Tiryns and associated with the son of Pandion king.

Megara was famous as a trade port and was known for export of horses. This information is crucial as the Tamil texts do speak of horses sold by Yavanas! Usually Arabs were known to have sold horses. But a Greek port having resemblance to Tamil culture, located too close to Tiryns and engaged in exporting horses fits well with a long standing connection between the people of Tiryns (Tirayans) who left long ago from Tamil lands and the people of their Mother culture (Tamils). Those who have left their roots and made new homes in Greece, developed new opportunities of trade from the new environs and sent back their items to the Mother country. One is horse and the other item is wine - which is very much mentioned in Sangam texts. We will see the wine part later in this post. 

Another feature that shows Tamil – Indian Ocean connection with Tiryns / Mycenaean culture is shown below. Look at the image on this vase dated at 1300 -1200 from Mycenaean culture BCE

There is a bull and a stork in the painting on this vase. Though storks appear in many regions of the world, the structure and design in the body of this stork looks similar to painted stork. This variety is specific to Indian Ocean regions and South East Asia. 

The imagery of storks pricking bulls shows the kind of damp habitat of the tropics of South and South East Asia where this is a common sight.

Yet another connection is the ivory seats used by Etruscans. The earliest mention of ivory throne comes in Etruscan culture of 8th century Etruria where the kings sat on ivory thrones that could be folded and taken wherever the kings went. From where they got the ivory is a question. The art of making goods from ivory could have originated only in those regions where elephants were found in large numbers. The source of ivory, namely the elephants are largely found in South and South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and not in Greece or its environs.

The Sangam poem on 3rd century BC Pandyan king called “Nedunal vaadai”, describes the specifications for procuring quality ivory to make furniture. The Pandyan queen’s cot was made of ivory, says that poem. It also says that the ivory used for making that circular cot must have fulfilled certain conditions. The elephants from which ivory was procured must have completed 40 years of age. The legs of such elephants must look like drums. Such elephants must have taken part in wars. Such elephants must have lines on the forehead. Such elephants must have reached a stage when they would no longer be pressed into service in wars. In such a state, the tusks that have naturally fallen from the elephant must be used for carving. The ivory collected from dead elephants cannot be used for carving. (1)

Going be these rules for choice of the ivory, it is obvious that the ivory tusks could have been collected only in India or South East Asia where ancient Tamil population had existed and used elephants for wars. Making furniture such as thrones and cots must have been an industry in these regions. The Etruscan ivory throne that was foldable shows a high level of artistry in making ivory goods. The Pandyan connection to Greece could have made it possible for ivory art to have migrated to Greece since 1500 BC. The Pandyan connection could have enabled the later day Greek or Etruscan artisans to procure quality ivory from Indian Ocean and South Indian Tamils.

On the topic of artisans, it must be pointed out here that the same Sangam text describing the Pandyan queen’s palace says that lamps made by Yavanas were lit in her palace.

யவனர் இயற்றிய வினை மாண் பாவை
கை ஏந்து அகல் நிறைய நெய் சொரிந்து,        
பரூஉத் திரி கொளீஇய குரூஉத் தலை நிமிர் எரி,        
அறு அறு காலைதோறு, அமைவரப் பண்ணி,  
பல் வேறு பள்ளிதொறும் பாய் இருள் நீங்க;

(Nedunal vaadai – 101- 105)

Lamps known as  Paavai ViLakku” – meaning “lamps held by woman” made of metal by Yavanas were used in the Pandyan palace. These lamps would look like the ones shown below.

These lamps are different from Indus lamps. The Indus lamp-carrying woman had the lamps in the head. Look at the pictures below. The two side buns in the head of this female are actually lamps to hold oil.

The image below shows how these lamps looked like.

But the Yavana lamps show the woman as carrying the lamps in hands. They are common sight in temple architecture in South India.

Small sized lamps of this type were used by common people in their worship. Some paintings of the 19th century show such lamps. Here are some those paintings.

Even today these lamps are found in many temples. There is a silver lamp of the same kind but depicting a male figure holding the lamp, seen in the sannidhi of Manavala Mamunigal in the Parthasarathy temple of Triplicane, Chennai. This was unearthed in the 80s when renovation was done. The letters found on the statue shows that this figure was Thondaman, the King of the Kancheepuram region during the Sangam age. This shows that this temple had existed even before 2000 years ago. The presently available inscriptions show that this temple was patronised by Pallavas. The Pallavas must have erased all the signs of the previous patrons, namely Thondaimaan kings and that perhaps explains the reason this statue was found under the ground.

Many similar looking lamps of silver or gold could have existed in the Sangam period but been melted and reused by later / Pallava kings. It would be of interest if we could get the dating done on this lamp at Parthasarathy temple and explore its origins to know whether it was made locally or imported from Greece. Looking from a distance I thought that it was a Greek figure. The hair style resembled so. But upon enquiry I came to know the details which I wrote here. I have requested for a photograph of this statue. Once I get it I will upload it here.

What is of concern to us is that a king had carried the lamp like women. The Sangam text says that these lamps were made by yavanas! The text was dated by me in an earlier article, to 3rd century BC based on the Mangulam Brahmi inscription. Perhaps until then this workmanship was not available in India. It also shows the close and regular connection between Pandyans and Yavanas – who as per our discourse came in the lineages of migrated Tirayans. The ivory as raw material had gone to Greece even before 6th century BCE. The workmanship of ivory goods was already available in South India (the Sangam text describing the ivory cot pertains to Pandyan kingdom in present day Madurai). But metal works on lamp- carrying females were procured from Greece!

It is strange that no image of lamp- carrier women of the above kind / style has been found in Greece or anywhere in Europe. Unless the Yavanas were known for making such images, the Pandyans would not have imported these lamps from them. The absence of this kind of lamps in Greece shows that Yavana artisans had made them specifically for Pandyans. For this they must have visited Pandyan lands, observed the local style before making them. This gives them greater scope for imbibing other ideals and Thoughts from Tamil – Vedic society and spreading them in Greece. Moreover the early connection between Pandyans and Tiryns people could have facilitated steady flow of ideas on Gods and astrology to Greece.

On the issue of astrology, the Sangam text that tells about this Yavana lamps is the one which also tells about the painting of the Zodiac with Mesha as its head. This painting was made on the ceiling above the bed of the queen. The bed of the queen was fixed in a round shaped cot made of ivory. The queen’s quarters had woman-with-lamps made by Yavanas! Thus the  description of the 3rd century BC work of Nedunal vaadai throws up a situation where the yavanas from Greece  had visited the Pandyan land (Madurai in particular), either delivered or worked on the lamps; they could have possibly worked on or learnt the skills of making ivory cots and went back to Greece with the ideas on the zodiac that they saw in the queen’s palace!

Such a migration of ideas – particularly with reference to the zodiac exists. The zodiac painted in the queen’s chamber was not just a piece of art. It also served a purpose. The poem goes on to say that the queen looked at the zodiac having Mesha as its head and took note of the star Rohini. Rohini was an intimate consort of Moon as Moon is always seen moving very close to Rohini than with any other star. The queen thought of this and compared her position with her husband. Her husband, the king was at that time in the battlefield and the queen was suffering from pangs of separation from him. (2)

This narration shows that the painting of the zodiac was made on the ceiling of the queen’s bed as a constant reminder or as a reflection of the intimacy the queen shared with her husband. It was more than a piece of art to remind them of their intimacy that was comparable to a celestial feature or of the heavens. The Yavana artist who happened to visit that palace could in all possibility catch that idea and the image and take it to his country.

Certainly the idea of this painting of the zodiac could not have come from Greece / yavanas because the main idea of the intimacy of Rohini with Moon is completely of Puranic origin of the Vedic society. The presence of this painting in the Pandyan queen’s palace shows that such paintings could have been in vogue even before that time. The Greeks did not conceive the idea of that painting. But there is a greater chance that the Yavana artisans who had frequented the Pandyan kingdom had taken back to Greece the idea of the 12 part zodiac sans Rohini- Moon romance. 

The next most important Yavana connection to Tamil Pandyans is the Wine! We will analyse it in the next post.



1.From Nedunal vaadai

தச நான்கு எய்திய பணை மருள் நோன் தாள்,
இகல் மீக்கூறும், ஏந்து எழில் வரி நுதல்,
பொருது ஒழி, நாகம் ஒழி எயிறு அருகு எறிந்து,
சீரும் செம்மையும் ஒப்ப, வல்லோன்
கூர் உளிக் குயின்ற, ஈர் இலை இடை இடுபு,
தூங்கு இயல் மகளிர் வீங்கு முலை கடுப்பப்
புடை திரண்டிருந்த குடத்த, இடை திரண்டு,
உள்ளி நோன் முதல் பொருத்தி, அடி அமைத்து,
பேர் அளவு எய்திய பெரும் பெயர்ப் பாண்டில்

2.From Nedunal vaadai
புதுவது இயன்ற மெழுகு செய் படமிசை,
திண் நிலை மருப்பின் ஆடு தலை ஆக,
விண் ஊர்பு திரிதரும் வீங்கு செலல் மண்டிலத்து,
முரண் மிகு சிறப்பின் செல்வனொடு நிலைஇய,
உரோகிணி நினைவனள் நோக்கி, நெடிது உயிரா,


Saranathan TG said...

It is stated that the Greeks (yavanas) came to Madurai and worked to make cots from elephant tusks and lamps(pavai vilakku). How is it that this art, the Greeks did not take to their homeland? It is a bit difficult to imagine that while they learnt astrology from Tamils and implemented it in their native place, they were not interested in the tusk art or lamps? This may kindly be clarified.

jayasree said...

Dear Mr Saranathan,

Some mis-reading is here. First of all I didn't say that Yavanas came to Tamil lands to work on cots made of ivory. Nowhere it is said so. What Nedunalvaadai says is that local artisans made cot from ivory and gives details of the characteristics of elephants whose ivory was procured for these works. Yavana connection comes only in the supply (making) of Paavai vilakku.

What I have said in the article is that foldable ivory seat is found in Etruscans. There are ivory works in Europe in Biblical period. But Etruscans pre-date them. The availability of elephants on south and south east Asia coupled with specifications of procurement of ivory in Nedunal vaadai makes it known that Ivory was procured here (Tamil lands including) and exported to outside world. The ivory artisanship is found here and Etruscans too. But the raw material was available here only thereby establishing the need for connection with Tamil lands / south asia from Greece in the past.

I theorized the coming of Yavanas to Tamil lands in the context of Paavai lamps. These lamps are in local Tamil style. Such lamps are not so far found anywhere in Greece or Europe though Agal vilakku type lamps are found in Rome. So we can not assume that the Yavanas made the Paavai vilakku by sitting in Greece and exporting from there. They must have made field visits to Tamil lands, observed the local style and gone back to Greece and made form their raw material.

Another possibility is that some one from Tamil lands must have taken the illustrations of local people to Greece. Assuming that some one had carried the illustrations to Greece from here, that also does not rule out that the idea of the zodiac painting on the ceiling getting transferred to Greece.

One may argue why the other way transfer was not possible. It is possible but did not happen is what I mean when I say the purpose of the zodiac- painting in Nedunal vaadai was Rohini- Moon romance which is purely Vedic.

Hope I clarified. Or any thing left not clarified?

Learn Speaking English said...

A very useful post