Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More on "paRai"

PaRai has three meanings in Tamil lexicon.

“parai parai vachanatthOdu

parakkum puL-iRagu mup-pEr”

says ChoodamaNi Nigandu.

PaRai means the drum called paRai.

It also means ‘word’ and ‘bird’s wing’.

pRaidhal has its origins in this word and

it means to announce or declare or convey something with certainty.

This paRai as an instrument to convey something was very much part of life of ancient Tamils.

I noted down 12 different types of paRai in Pura naanUru itself!

The types are dependent upon the occasion the parai is used and also its appearance and the quality of sound.

They are as follows.

(1) Ari-p-paRAi :- The sound of this is that of rubbing something on some soft surface (aritthal).

It is comparable to the sound of the rub of the bird’s wing on the plants of the field when it flies off the field

This appears in texts as a comparison with some soft sound, say, the sound of ornaments rubbing with each other.

(2) Anathan paRai :- This has a dull sound but not an auspicious one.

This paRAi is usually beaten by haunted women

who beat this parai after smearing the blood of the dead fallen in the battle field,

on their hair!!

Vultures get attracted to this paRai and reach the battle field.

(3) AaguLi-p-paRai


(4) Siru paRai :- Both these are small in size, can be easily held in hand and used along with singing.

Mostly the singers (paaNar) in olden days

carry this paRai along with ‘yAzh’ (a kind of light veena that can be hung on the shoulder.)

Both Yaazh and this paRai are used simultaneously or separately while singing.

From different texts of yore,

it is known that this parai is usually beaten in early hours

before sun rise in praise of the king or God.

(5) Salli-p-paRai :- This is also known as ‘perum paRai’, a big drum –

used at the time of processions and for making announcements.

(6) Saa-k-kaattu-p-paRai :- This is used only at the time of death.

Is also known as saavu-p-paRai.

(7) Cheru-p-paRai :- This is beaten when the king goes out to the battle field.

This PaRai is carried by drum-beaters

in front of the elephants that go to the war-front.

(8) pOr-p-paRai :- This is also beaten at times of war.

This is to announce that the king had started for the battlefield to snatch victory.

(9) Neidhal paRai :- This is similar to Saa-k-kaattu-p-paRai, beaten at the time of death.

This paRai was used by the people of Neidhal -

those living on the sea shore.

(10) Thadaari-p-paRai :- This is the common drum used by many in the ancient land of Tamils.

This is also known as ‘kiNai-p-paRai’ or

‘pambai-p-paRai’ or


This is the drum held by Shiva during his cosmic dance.

The image of Nataraja holds this.

(11) Oru kaN paRai. This means the one-eyed drum!

This is a big-sized drum, with an eye that resembles the foot of an elephant.

This was used in wars and for making announcements.

(12) MaNa-p-paRai :- This is the drum used in marriages.

Apart from the above,

each of the 5 land forms of the Tamils had

its own characteristic parai, yaazh (hand held veena) and paN (song)

Those in hill tracts (kurinji) used Thondaga-p-parai’

(this is in places ending with the word ‘kudi’, like sirukudi, kunna-k-kudi etc)

Those in desert areas (paalai) used ‘thudi-p-parai’

Those in forest tracts (mullai) used ‘yEru kOt parai’

( places end with ‘paadi’, chEri’ and ‘paLLi’, like vaazhappaadi, aayar paadi etc.)

Those in plains (marudham) used ‘maNa-p-parai ‘ and ‘kiNai-p-parai’

(places end with ‘voor’, like putthur, maNavoor etc.)

Those in sea shores (neidhal) used ‘meen kOt parai’

(places ending with ‘pattinam’ and ‘paakkam’.

Chenna-p-pattinam – former name of Chennai – belongs to this area.)

From these information, some idea of the kind of parai

that Andaal mentioned in her Thiruppavai

can be inferred.

The meaning and symbolism of paRai as found in Thiruppavai has been discussed

in another blog, “Secrets in Thiruppavai – paRai”.

In this write-up, let us see the type of parai or drum depicted by Andaal.

At 9 places the word paRai has been mentioned in Thiruppavai.

1. parai tharuvaan,
2. paddi-p-parai kondu,
3. pOrra-p-parai tharum,
4. arai parai,
5. parai thaaruthiyaagil,
6. saala-p-perunm parai,
7. undrannai paadi paraikondu,
8. nee thaaraai parai
9. irrai parai kolvan

Reading them in the context, we find that except ‘saala-p-perum parai’,

the parai at every other place has symbolic meaning which has been discussed earlier.

The Salli-p-parai is a big parai (perum parai) which is used in processions.

Andaal has mentioned ‘Saala-p-perum parai’ and

this confirms my contention expressed in “Secrets of Thiruppavai – Vaikunta ekadasi”

that the Vaikunta ekadasi procession was described in the pasuram “mAlE maNivanna”

The procession was accompanied with the beating of the big drum, salli-p-parai!

Let us now see what was that parai (as such mentioned in the rest of Thiruppavai)

carried by the aayar girls and Andaal during their month-long vratham.

The parai used for singing the praise of god in early hours of the day (before sunrise)


‘aguLi-p-pari’ or ‘siru parai’ (refer the types above)

We can also assume that Andaal would have used the parai

that was chararcteristic of her land,

namely Villiputthur (marudham or plains).

The characteristic parai of her land, ‘kiNai-p-parai’ or ‘udukkai’ or ‘tadaari-p-pari’

was meant for worship of Shiva and

Andaal would not have used that for the worship of Thirumaal.

Instead it must have been the small, easy to hold parai

which goes well with singing in early hours in praise of God.

Then it must be


also known as

"siru paRai"

The mention of Arai paRai at one place is

to indicate the announcement of the hidden meaning of the Vedas.

That gives the clue to the symbolic meaning of parai as used by Andaal

and that has been explained elaborately by Acharyas.

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