Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tamil women and death-related issues – were the same throughout Aryavartha.

No Aryan – Dravidian divide. It was one Aryavartha (18)

In the previous post,

we saw the instance of a woman offering pindam to the husband

and also saw how this was as per Vedic injunctions only.

The ‘kaadali’ (lover / loving wife) of king Vel Evvi

offered pindam to the king.

In this particular case, two inferences can be drawn.

One, the king died without issues and therefore his wife offered the pindam

(because as per hierarchy of persons having the right to offer pindam,

the wife comes after sons and grand sons.)

Second, the king might have had issues,

but the wife opted to offer the pindam by herself,

either out of love for the person or because the children were too small.

It seems the second inference is more feasible

because there is another verse in PuranaanUru which tells

about the descendants of Vel Evvi.

The descendants of VeL Evvi were none other than “Angavai’ and sangavai’,

the daughters of Paari vaLLal!

Paari had come in the lineage of VeL Evvi.

After Paari’s death, his friend,

poet Kapilar took up the responsibility

of Paari’s two daughters.

He was going around to see grooms for the girls.

He met the king IrungOvEL and

introduced the girls to him, telling about their lineage.

He told that they had come in the olden lineage of Vel Evvi.(1)

(“Evvi thol-kudi padeeyiyar”)

From this it is known that Evvi lived before Paari VaLLal

and that he had issues.

There are verses in other Tamil texts too

which speak about VeL Evvi.

There are verses in praise of his philanthropy in Kurunthogai (verse 19)

and in AganaanUru (verse 366)

We have on record in PuranaanUru,

3 poets who had immortalized him in verses.

He seemed to have lived long enough as to have got issues.

He died in the war against

Thalaiyaanagaalatthu cheru vendra Pandyan Nedumchezhiyan.

Though his lineage had continued, his wife seemed to have opted

to be part of the shraddha ceremony

which was a customary practice in ancient Vedic ways.

And this was also reflective of the freedom

that Vedic women enjoyed in making their decisions

which the Tamil queen also had

in making the decision on sharaddha, though she was blessed with children.


There are moving poems in PuranaanUru which express

widowhood and the life style of widowed women.

The description of the woman upon the death of her husband

is expressed as Kaiyaru nilai in Tamil grammar

and this description in the various poems of PuranaanUru

is the same and startling to say the least!

Almost all such descriptions are about the state of widowed women

soon after the death of their husbands.

The women were from different segments of the society.

The description exists about

widowed Queen, widowed woman of a local chieftain who died in local skirmishes

and also about a widowed woman of a local thief

who was killed while stealing the cattle!

But in all these instances, the state of widowhood described is the same.

It is about the tough and painful life the widowed women chose

upon the death of their beloved husband.

They lose their ornaments.

Particular mention is made at all poems that they lose their bangles!

The mention of losing bangles is very much stressed.

“thodi kazhi magaLir” is the common description.

Their bangles are removed by breaking.

The wife of the local chieftain laments at the death of her husband

how she can live without her bangles, among his relatives

“vaLai-yil varungai (2)

Another woman cries how she has come to be without bangles

in her hands among the relatives.

VaLaiyil varungai vocchi-k-kiLaiyuL innaanaayina (3)

The wife of the one who was killed in some local skirmish

was so inconsolable,

because she could not even cry aloud “IyyO”,

or else the tigers in the nearby forest might hear the sound of her cries

and come and pull away the body of her husband.

She was too weak to walk to reach a shady place.

She sought the help of someone to hold her hands

while walking.

The moving part of her dialogue here was that

she was looking at her hands

that were filled with bangles.

As if to remind herself that she was going to lose these bangles for ever,

she told the helper to hold her bangle filled hand.

narai vaLAi mun kai pattri” (4)

Mangala sutra

The startling feature of all these and other verses on widowhood is that

there is no mention of “THALI” or “MANGALYA SUTRA

here or in any other verses in PuranaanUru.

The widow loses her bangles – not thaali.

Losing the bangles was considered as the most painful and inauspicious thing.

Losing the bangles was found mentioned along with the lamentation

how the woman would be able to live with such inauspiciousness

among others who were fortunate to wear the bangles.

This is akin to the importance attached to thaali or mangalya sutra

in the present day Tamil society.

But the mention of thaali is conspicuous by its absence in PuranaanUru,

which depicts life that was 2000 years ago.

Analyzing further we find that

the thaali is also not found mentioned in marriages sanctioned by Vedas.

There is no mention of Thaali in Rama- Sita marriage.

Later in the famous VaaraNamaayiram songs by AndaaL (written about 1000 years ago)

there is no mention about maangalya dharaNam.

The Vedic marriage does not contain the feature - mangalya dharaNam.

There is Kanya dhaan – gift of the virgin bride by the father,

which is followed by other ceremonies such as PaNi-grahaNam.

But there is no mention of mangalya dharaNam in marriages sanctioned by Vedas.

Mangalya DharaNam came as a later addition.

The famous verses “maangalyam thanthunaa” recited

at the time of maangalya dhaaraNAm

in today’s marriages are indeed from Vaayu puranam

and not from any Veda.

It is important to note that Tamils in olden days also

did not have mangalya dhaaraNam.

On the other hand,

wearing bangles is considered to be of importance

for the married woman in North India even today.

They wear a number of colored bangles

and that is considered as something auspicious

particularly for the married woman.

But we don’t find among Tamils of today

that much importance being given to bangles

and connecting it to auspiciousness

of being a sumangali’ (whose husband is alive)

Thaali or Mangalyam is the prime symbol of being married,

not bangles.

But in ancient Tamilnadu, we find that importance was given to bangles,

as it continues to be among the North Indians,

the so-called people of Aryan origin.

The symbol of widowhood of an ancient Tamil woman thus

‘was not wearing bangles’.

How this custom could have come to exist among Tamils?

Did anyone import it

or did anyone preach them to be so?

Not possible.

This custom could have exited as part of a centralized culture

which was same everywhere among the people of North and the South,

that is, in the entire Aryavartha.

The rituals were the same throughout Aryavartha,

among all sections of people, irrespective of their social status.

It is to be noted that this ritual of breaking the bangles

and not wearing them for the rest of their lives

was not stipulated anywhere in the Vedas.

It was about cultural practices.

While the Vedic rituals were followed throughout Aryavartha,

the cultural habits also were the same throughout Aryavartha.

This is the inference.


There is another painful custom related to widowhood.

Until recent times we had seen the custom of widows tonsuring their heads

-only among Brahmins.

There is no Vedic injunction for this custom.

Sadly, this custom also existed in ancient Tamil lands,

not just among Brahmins –

in fact there is no clue pointing to a Brahmin widow in any of the verses-

but it looks universal.

The widows had their heads tonsured,

their bangles broken

and all other ornaments removed – so goes the description.

“koodhal koidu, kurum thodi neekki, alli vuNavin manaivi” (5)

(had hairs removed, bangles removed and takes only half cooked rice)

Koi mmozhi-th-thalaiyodu,


pillendranaiyil pallaNi izhandhE(6)

(with head tonsured and widowhood haunting her, losing her jewellery)

Their food also was something not good.

It was half-cooked rice,

mixed with the paste of sesame seeds (eLLu)

and tamarind water.

No salt was added.

Their bed was made up of hard surface with small stones (paral kal) spread over it.

The life of a widow was so hard and harrowing

that the wife of the Pandyan king preferred to commit Sati

than to live a s a widow.

The most distressing narration by the one

who is going to commit sati is found in PuranaanUru.


PerunkO-p-peNdu, the chief wife or Pattamahishi,

–generally the wife who shares the throne with the king in his court

is known as Perum kO-p- peNdu-

of King Bhootha-p-pandyan

expresses her grief at the death of her husband

and says that instead of enduring the life of a widow (as mentioned above),

she prefers to die at the funeral pyre of her husband. (7)

Tholkaappiyam also acknowledges the practice of supreme sacrifice

at the funeral pyre of the husband in sutra 19 and 24.

Sati was not justified but it had existed in Tamil land too.

This might have had a psychological connection to a Vedic practice.

The death ceremony known as Antyesti,

is the last of the 16 samskaras or life sacraments

for an individual.

This ceremony is described in Rig veda

Of the 5 important parts of this ceremony, (8)

the 5th one is about

making the wife of the deceased to lie on the funeral pyre

along the side of the dead husband.(9)

Before the pyre is lit, she would be asked to rise from the pyre and join the living.

The rationale of this practice can be understood only if we analyze

the very purpose of marriage or vivaha

which sees the union of two halves into one,

making the pair work unitedly for doing sacred acts.

The detailed rationale of this will be posted later,

but for the time being it is enough to know that

the couple means what they are – a coupling.

One without the other is dis-functional.

That is why a symbolic representation was allowed by Rig vedic mantra

by making the wife lie on the pyre as though she too is dead.

But in course of time, those stung with extreme desperation

might have opted to voluntarily shed their life by not moving out of the pyre.

The extremely grieving wife might have felt like dying

than living without her husband.

Such a person might have refused to come out of the pyre as per this Vedic ritual.

Seeing the psychological impact that this lying on the pyre

could do to the grieving wife,

this part of the ritual could have been done away with.

This part of the ceremony and associated mantras are no longer in practice / use.

Yet, the grief of the wife in having lost the husband

has made some of them take extreme steps.

Sita’s agni pravesham is one of this kind.

When she came to know that Rama was not prepared to live with her,

she chose death in the pyre, as though she has lost her husband.

Such psychological impact is there in the women of the Vedic society

who consider the husband as the Prana (the breath) or life.

When the praNa is gone, they too are gone.

This psyche was demonstrated by the wife of Pandyan king,

who entered the pyre.

From the verse composed by her, addressing a gathering of nobles (Aryans or sandrOr)

“pal saandreerE, pal saandreerE…

it is obvious that others had persuaded her not to commit sati.

She wanted to tell her justification and did that in that verse.

After that, she entered the pyre.

That incident has also been recorded on PuranaanUru,

in the form of a poem by poet Madurai PEraalavaayar (10)

Tamil texts including Tholkaappiyam have acknowledged

the sporadic occurrence of such events, but have not justified them.

They were treated as high level of Karpu – chastity and integrity of the woman.

But later, perhaps much later in last couple of millennia, it became a forced one.

The moving narration on widowhood and sati reveals

that – be it North or South, it was one culture –

a culture that had its roots in Vedas and its dharma.

What shall we call it,

Aryan culture

or Dravidian culture??

(to be continued)

Reference :-

(1) PuranaanUru -202

(2) PuranaanUru -253 by poet KuLambaadaayanaar.

(3) PuranaanUru -254 by poet Kayamanaar.

(4) PuranaanUru -255 by poet VaN baraNar.

(5) PuranaanUru -250 by poetess ThaayamkaNNiyaar

(6) PuranaanUru -261 by poet Aavoor Moolankizhaar.

(7) PuranaanUru -246 by poetess Perum kO-p-peNdu.

(8) The 5 parts are

1- Agni was invoked to carry the departing soul to the realm of Yama,

the god of death.

2-In the case of a priest, his sacrificial implements were left with the body to be burned along with him. Similar practice in the death of other people too whose implements will also be cremated along with them.

3- Prayers were recited to various deities in order to transfer the departing soul to pithru loka.

4 – A cow or goat, known as anustarani was burned along with body of the deceased. Ravana was cremated this way. A gost was sacrificed and its hide was used to cover the body of Ravana before lighting the pyre. This is done in the belief that the body will not feel the heat. Anustarani means to cover or as a cover.

This practice was given up later.

5 – The wife would lay briefly on the side of the deceased husband and then she will be asked to rise and join others. It was after that only, the pyre would be lit.

This goes to show that sati was not in practice in Vedic times. This practice was also given up much before Ithihasic times.

(9) Rig Vedic hymns X -10 (Yama-Yami)

(10) PuranaanUru -247 by poet Madurai PEraalavaayar

No comments: