Monday, January 20, 2014

From Tamil ‘Taar’ to Taurus and Tamil ‘Bull-hugging’ to Greek ‘Bull- leaping’.

Previous articles of this series can be read here.

Earlier in Part 26 we saw how the idea of Krios was linked to the Tamil “Kidaa” and its imported version of mountain ram, “kri-Kri” in Crete.

In Part 27 we saw how Krios and the Sanskrit Kriya cannot be compared semantically and how Kriya and Mesha go together in Vedic hymns. 

In this post we will see how the word ‘taur’ in Taurus is found in Tamil and how the Minoan Bull-leaping culture traces its origins to Tamil culture of “Bull-hugging”.

There are many versions created by European myth writers on the origin of the idea of the constellation Taurus. In Greek mythology, Taurus was considered as the bull that Zeus took guise of,  to abduct Europa. This bull was called as the Cretan Bull. As per this mythology, Zeus transformed himself into a white bull and mixed with the herd of bulls maintained by Europa’s father. Europa was attracted by this bull and mounted on that. Zeus as the bull then carried her fast by crossing the seas to reach Crete. There he made her his queen and she gave birth to three sons one of whom was Minos. 

One version is that this bull called as the Cretan Bull was depicted as the constellation of Taurus. As most of the body of this bull (Zeus) was immersed in waters when it was crossing the seas with Europa on its back, only the face and front part of the bull is seen as the constellation of Taurus, according to mythographers. Though there are other versions, this seems to be the oldest one, found as early as the 6th century BCE written by the mythographer Acusilaus.

Europa travelling on the Bull.  Terracotta figurine from Athens, c. 460–480 BCE

The defect in this myth behind Taurus is that the constellation has no place for Europa who was seated on the bull. Europa has lent her name to a continent (a geographic region initially) but could not find a place in the most important constellation of Taurus that depicted her husband, Zeus, the great Greek God as the bull! Had the conception of the constellations of the 12 part zodiac is an indigenous development of Greeks, this notable omission would not have occurred or the myth would have been suitably re-done when the idea of the Taurus constellation was conceived. None of this had happened showing that a myth was inserted to suit an idea of Taurus that was not its own making. 

The word Taurus appears in another myth, in the myth of Minotaur. This is connected to Minos, the son of Europa. Readers may recall Part 28 for the connection between Minos and Minavan of Tamil language. The bull, Europa coming from a bull tending family and Minava (meaning ‘fisherman’ in Tamil) have a connection here which we will see in the course of this post. 

Coming to Minotaur, it is a creature having the head of a bull and body of a man. It is a compound word of Minos and Taur wherein no etymology exists for Taur. Mythographers and historians give their own ideas for the meaning of ‘taur’. Popularly the accepted meaning is ‘bull’. But Taur has a connection with Tamil.

‘Taar’ (தார்) is an olden Tamil word having many meanings one of which is connected with cattle and another one solves the Greek myth of Minotaur. Taar is the Tamil word for the cane fitted with an iron hook that is used to guide or drive the bull. (1). This word “taar” is a common word among the cattle rearing people. Wherever they had gone – and they had gone on many directions looking for grazing ground for their cattle - this word also could have travelled with them.

“Taar” also means “trick” or “tactical move”, or UpAya (in Sanskrit) or “Thanthiram” (தந்திரம்) in Tamil.   There is a verse from Purananuru of Tamil Sangam Age giving this meaning. (2).

The myth of Minotaur has many variations but with a central theme. If we take out the myth part of them it gives a rational explanation of what was originally conceived as Minotaur. The different versions by different mythogarphers can be read here. Before going to the basic idea we will see the sequence of the myths around the bull of Crete. Initially there was no talk of any bull in Crete. Zeus was attracted by Europa and wanted to bring her to his country. This puts Europa at a place other than Crete. Mythographers have located her somewhere in the near vicinity of Crete but separated by ocean.

Zeus lured her in the guise of a bull (this is the myth part as no one can change into a bull) and carried her on its back. Keeping away the myth, what had happened was Europa belonging to cattle rearing family was lured by Zeus and was ready to elope with him. This she did by travelling on a bull. In any story, such elopements are explained by expressions that her lover carried her and went off. But here the bull comes in the picture. It may be because the bull was associated with Europa as she came from a cattle rearing family. The association of the bull with Europa was a crucial piece of information which the mythographers could not brush aside. Bull is a crucial piece of evidence of her nativity and origins.

The next part of the story is that she became the queen of Crete and mothered three sons of Zeus. Minos was one of them whose name-root as Mina is the next crucial piece of evidence of Europa’s nativity and origins. Remember Mina means fish and Minava is the fisherman in Tamil language.

Then comes the story of Minos who was a powerful ruler and credited with building a strong navy force for the first time in that part of the world. Did he do it without any support or did there exist any support, say, from his maternal side – presumably the seafaring Pandyans of Minava (fisherman) background? (How Europa could be linked to South Asian Tamil speaking society will be explained in the next post).

Minos was married to Pasiphae who came from the East like Europa. A bull is there in her story too. Minos got a fantastic bull from Poseidon to be sacrificed to the sea God. But he didn’t want to sacrifice it as it looked too good. This made Poseidon angry that he made Pasiphae, the wife of Minos to fall in love with the bull. Pasiphae wanted to mate this bull (a myth) and requisitioned the services of a master craftsman Daedalus to make a wooden bull covered with bull-skin. Pasiphae climbed into it and mated with the bull (a myth) sent by Poseidon. As a result she gave birth to a being that was half man and half bull (a myth). That being was called as Minotaur – which people think, means “Bull of Minos”.

The issue is how could such a being born to Minos’s wife and a bull be called as the Bull of Minos? When that being was not born of Minos, giving it a name as the Bull of Minos does not sound logical. Basic aberration is that Minos did not approve of his wife mating a bull and this is known from the way she secretly created the wooden bull. How could he accept a being born to his wife and a bull? How could he have lent his name to that bull? How could she give birth to a half man and half bull is another basic question but there are people like the ancient traveller and geographer, Pausanias of the 2nd century AD defending  this myth that in his times women had given birth to far more extraordinary monsters than the Minotaur! (3) This is how myths get perpetuated.

The myth further goes that Minos built a labyrinth to house this being as it was too ferocious to manage. His son Androgeus, was killed by Athenians, and to avenge that Minos demanded that 7 Athenian youth and 7 Athenian maidens must be sent to be fed to Minotaur housed in the labyrinth. They had to send them in the 7th or 9th year. On the third such sacrifice, Theseus, the son of King Aegeus was sent to be fed to Minotaur. But Minos’ daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus. She plotted to get him back safe from the labyrinth by giving him a thread which he tied on the door while he went inside the labyrinth. Once he spotted the Minotaur inside, he killed it and came out without losing the way by following the thread. Then he escaped with Ariadne, the daughter of Minos. This is the story of Minotaur – the word “Taur” getting interpreted as bull perhaps after this name. There is no record of Taur as bull prior to the period of this Minotaur.  

Taking out the mythological parts of this story what we get is that Minos created a “trick” –  a taur (“taar” in Tamil meaning trick) to punish his enemies in retaliation for the death of his son Androgeus. He believed that Athenians killed him or it could also be true as Catullus of the 1st century BCE wrote that he wanted to get Athenians to be sacrificed to eradicate plague. Minotaur was a not real but a cooked up story to create fear or take revenge on the Athenians. 

Etruscan art shows Minotaur as a baby with a bull head and a human body. This is a mere symbolism for a valiant son born to Minos and Pasiphae. 

Pasiphaë and the Minotaur, Attic red-figure kylix found at Etruscan Vulci

Look at this figure from Etruscan art. The lady is wearing ear ornaments and bangles – the signs of Indian origin. The swan next to her shows Indian connection. Recall Part 25  where we saw an Etruscan art of swans and swastika together. It is reproduced below.

Etruscan pendant with swastika symbols. Bolsena Italy, 700 BCE to 650 BCE.

From the Etruscan art, it is seen that Pasiphae gave birth to a child of Minos which was strong as a bull. The bull- head was only a symbolism. This baby in the Etruscan art could perhaps refer to Androgeus, the son of Minos and Pasiphae, who was killed by Athenians out of jealousy of him to have won many games. To avenge them Minos created the idea of Minotaur – a monster with bull-head, born of Pasiphae and the Cretan bull. The Athenians had killed his original son, but he would not let them off and get them killed by his another son – a monster supposed to have been born to his wife and a real bull!

A myth of its valour and monstrous powers were woven to create fear in the minds of the opponents. But such a being however well it could be made by the best of craftsman of his times, could not be left to be seen by the people. It must be kept in secrecy but must be capable of creating awe and fear in people. So it was housed in a labyrinth making it difficult for anyone entering it to come out to tell the truth of the Minotaur. To create an aura of fear the sacrifices were called for. This Mino-taur was a “trick of Minos” – applying the meaning of taar in Tamil. The Tamil connection will be analysed in the course of this post.

Unfortunately for Minos, his daughter fell in love with his enemy whom he wanted to kill by the Trick of Mino – Minotaur. The big challenge for her lover, Theseus was to come out safely form the labyrinth and not getting attacked by the Minotaur housed inside the labyrinth. He was helped by the daughter of Minos to come out but what he saw inside the labyrinth could not be disclosed to outside world. It was because his immediate action plan was to escape with his lover which he did successfully but eventually ended up seeing the death of his father on reaching his country. In the meantime, Minos had to conceal the “trick” about the monster and diffuse any leak about it by Theseus who had successfully escaped from his country. He did this successfully by allowing the idea that Minitaur was killed by Theseus. No one had ever seen Minotaur. The only person to have seen it was Theseus and he knew that it was not real. But the word remained that Minotaur was killed by him.  This is the logical idea of the myth behind Minotaur.

Which elements of this story are originally of Greece or Crete, the pre-Greek civilisation? 

Starting from where we ended, the labyrinth was not an original idea of this period of Crete. The truly dangerous labyrinth was the one that Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna of Mahabharata fame encountered in Mahabharata war fought 5000 years ago. (Read here Part 17 of this series where it was established that Mahabharata war was fought 5000 years ago).

An engraving of that model from which he could not find his way out is reproduced from Halebid art. 

The earliest labyrinth found outside India comes from Mycenaean site of Pylos. This location having connection with South Asian Tamils and also Kiratas of North east India (to be explained in another article) is a matter of importance – showing probable routes of import of the idea to the pre- Greek society.

This tablet with the motif of the labyrinth was recovered from the site of the Mycenaean palace supposed to have been destroyed in a fire in 1200 BCE. 

A silver coin found in Knossos, where Minotaur was housed, is found engraved with a labyrinth. Its period is 400 BCE. It is shown below. 

Much older than these, seals with design of labyrinths engraved on them have been found in Lothal and Harappa of the Indus – Sarasvathi civilisation, thereby taking this idea to archeologically supported period of 5000 years BP in India. See them below. 

From Lothal

  From Harappa

Indigenous to Vedic culture was the idea of an enclosure that a Soma drinker must confine himself within. Though its model does not look like a labyrinth, its purpose was to keep the person (soma drinker) in the middle of the chambers away from outside world and particularly away from sunlight! A reconstruction of such a model chamber has been attempted by scholars based on Sussruta samhita.


The labyrinth of Minotaur was also designed as an enclosure. 


The bull connection comes in the story of Europa and Minos. But the available archaeological finds in Crete pertain to only one type of activity with the bull. This type shows Bull-leaping activity. 

Reconstruction of one of the Taureador frescos - Some time in MM III or LM I (1500 to 1000 BCE).
This painting shows 2 women at the two ends of the bull and a man leaping over it. This is not a case of bull fighting but leaping over the bull. Paintings on bull leaping are found in many numbers in Crete but with the same theme as above. This leap was tried to be enacted but was found to be impossible as the bull would not allow smooth leap over it. This made the researchers think that the idea depicted in this fresco is only imaginary and not real.

But taking a closer look at this fresco, I get more clues on its Tamil origins and would not rule this out as an impossible act. Before going into the Tamil connection let me show a seal from Mohenjo-Daro on a bull-fight.

This seal from Mohenjo-Daro shows men being thrown around by the bull. This shows that Bull fighting had existed in India for a known period of 5000 years. The Cretan bull fresco is not similar to this. It does not show an angry bull throwing out the people. It is recent say, from 1500 BCE onwards in the Middle or Late Minoan period when the Tirayan Pandyans and Etruscans had made their way to Greek regions after the loss of Indian Ocean habitat. In fact the period of Minos happened after Cyclopes (KaikkOlas) migrated to Tiryns. Minos came in the third generation, after Cyclopes were forced to take shelter inside the earth (caves) when torrential rains caused havoc at Aegean seas. (here). The lineage is Kronos > Zeus > Minos.

The fresco shows Tamil influence, as only in the Tamil- Vedic society bull fighting did not end up with killing the bull. The Minoan fresco also shows that the bull- game did not mean any harm to the bull. At all the other places known for bull-fight, the intention was to harm or kill the bull. Interestingly the places known for bull-fighting are those connected with Tamils – say, in the Mediterranean and in the Andean regions.

In the Tamil society during the Sangam age, the women of the cattle rearing society grew up a bull of their own. Every girl of the cattle rearing family would personally take care of a bull right from the time it was born. She used to feed it well, dress it well and even have a name for it. She used to roam around with this pet bull and was considered to be a difficult- to- conquer person like her bull. Anyone wanting to marry her must enter into a duel with her bull. He must be able to catch hold of the horns of the bull and climb the bull by hugging its hump and finally lie on the bull with his face looking forward in between the horns while his hands were holding the horns as though he were hugging her breasts. This expression is repeated in many Tamil verses of the Sangam age poems.

Infact this duel was not known as bull- fight, but as “Bull- hugging” (ஏறு தழுவுதல்). No harm was allowed to be done to the bull by the one attempting at “bull- hugging”. 

The currently held name Jallikattu was not the olden or the original name for this duel. It was not even a sport but a method to choose the groom in the ancient Tamil society among the cattle rearing class. The girl of this community used to throw a challenge to the stalker to catch her bull like this if he wanted to marry her. The one, who succeeded in catching her bull, was almost equal to that bull that she would happily consent to marry him.

The bull- leaping frescos of Crete show a similar hold of the girl on the bull. There the men were not challenged to mount the bull. But the girl held the bull in place and challenger was asked to leap over it. Look at the painting closely.

The girl is pressing the horns of the bull under her arm to make it bend its head and not move forward. She is not actually in a game with the bull. The bull also looks obliging by not moving forward. Only if the girl is a tamer or had moved closely with the bull, can a bull stand like this by obeying her. Yet another painting of the same kind shows a girl casually and effortlessly holding or pressing the horns  to make the bull not to move forward.

Look at her plaited hair – common hairstyle of Tamils (one of the ancient types of hair styles of Tamils is to part the hair into 5 and make 5 kinds of plaits). She is wearing bangles and arm ornaments that are common among Tamil women of yore. The girls are wearing shoes which are again common for cattle rearing people as they had to move in rough terrain with their cattle.

The posture of the bull is such that though its front legs are firmly on the ground, by being stopped or held by the girl in front, it can raise its hind part. The fresco shows such a posture only. The hind legs are not necessarily firmly on the ground. A look at this sculpture establishes this.

The bull is almost stationary with its front legs firmly on one place but trying to jump up the hind part of its body. The front pose of the bull clearly shows that it is stationary with its front legs firmly on the ground. 

The man had to leap over the bull in such a position without touching it. Moreover the girl standing behind the bull is making signs with her hand on how or in what direction he must leap.

This shows the girl in a relaxed posture signalling the moves the man is expected to make. The girl in the front must be the tender of this bull as she is able to stop the bull. In other words, the bull obeys her commands. The girl at the back dictates the moves that the contender must do. Perhaps the winner can marry the girl, who owns the bull.

This concept was there in Tamil culture. The image of Europa with the bull reminds one of the way how the Tamil girl of cattle rearing family was close to her bull.

Popular figure of Europa in a Greek vase - Tarquinia Museum, circa 480 BC

In this painting the bull is casually walking. Europa is walking along with it, guiding it by holding its horn.

In the Zeus – Europa myth, Zeus must have met Europa and fallen in love with her. Either he would have tamed the bull and officially claimed her hand or eloped with her along with her bull. This bull had come to Crete and perhaps caused havoc by its mighty behaviour. In the 7th labour of Hercules, he was asked by Minos, son of Europa to tame the Cretan bull. Perhaps this was the off spring of the bull of Europa. 

Pasiphae falling in love with a bull could also mean that she like Europa nurtured a powerful bull. She being attributed with getting Minotaur with a bull’s head could refer to the birth of a strong son owing to her strong body developed so in taming the bull. The following fresco shows two kids – looking like girls with long and parted hair, practicing boxing. This helped them gain shoulder and arm power to hold the bull by its horn to make it stand at one place. 

Children boxing in a fresco on the island of Santorini.

Though there is no reference to boxing practices for Tamil girls in the Sangam age, the verses do speak of them as having control over the bull they grow. 

According to one myth, the bull of Pasiphae had killed her son Androgeus at Marathon, instigated by Athenian King Aegeus. This was perhaps the first time in the Greek lands the bull had killed a person who was engaged in a sport with it. This had angered Minos prompting him to invent the idea of Trick of Minos, the Minotaur. In order to take revenge on the Athenians, Minos tricked them to believe that a mightier and monstrous off-spring of the Marathonian / Cretan Bull by name Minotaur existed with him and confined to the labyrinth. 

Perhaps the tough nature of the bulls made the latter society of Crete to tame the bulls and invent bull-leaping games.

After reading all these, one may ask whether this is sufficient proof for Tamil connection or migration to Greece in pre-Greek times. The stronger connection lies with Europe,  pronounced as ‘eheropi’ in Greek and sounds as “I”-roopi – meaning “the form of I (Ai)”, the Goddess as known in Tamil in the Sangam age. We will see those details in the next post along with its Vedic connection.

For the current post, it is to be understood, that our opponents cannot even claim Taurus as the root of Sanskrit Tavuri for Rishabha rashi. Vrushabha (वृषभ) is a Sanskrit word but Taar is a Tamil word connected with cattle. A society where Tamil was common man’s language and Sanskrit was the language of education can develop many such blended words from both the languages. A mind not prejudiced with Aryan – Dravidian divide can pick out many such words from Tamil showing that it was a Tamil- Sanskrit language group prevailing in India – ever since the 1st Sangam age about 10,000 years ago and not Aryan- Dravidian or Indo-European language group.

One such word is “Taar” (தார் / तार् ) that became Taavura (तावुर) in Sanskrit. (There are words common to both Tamil and Sanskrit having the etymology in Tamil. Eg Valli, the name of Skanda’s consort from Tamil hunter community. In Sanskrit it (वल्ली) means creeper. In Tamil it is pronounced with a stressed “L” as VaLLi (வள்ளி).  In Tamil it has a meaning ‘creeper’ in addition to other meanings. The root word is “vaL” (வள்) from which this word and different meanings are derived.) 

The Tamil Taar had gone to become Greek Taur that later became Taurus and then Asterion, the star.
At another level, the Tamil word for cattle “aa” () was adopted as the first letter of the Semitic languages. We will see those details in the next post.



(1)   “Senthamizh Agarathi” (Tamil Lexicon) December 1950 edition, edited by Na.Ci. Kanthaiyaa Pillai. Page no 305

(2)   ஒரு கால் வருதார்தாங்கி (புறநா. 80). Purananuru – 80. Meaning: “ஒருகால் அவன் செய்கின்றஉபாயத்தை விலக்கி

(3)   Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[On the Akropolis, Athens] is represented the fight which legend says Theseus fought with the so-called Tauros (Bull) of Minos, whether this was a man or a beast of nature he is said to have been in the accepted story. For even in our time women have given birth to far more extraordinary monsters than this."

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