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Mar 30, 2014

Tali System in Sangam Age

Tali System in Sangam Age
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao
Independent / private Researcher. Prersented more than 200 papers in national and international conferences and seminars of which 139 have been published in the proceedings, journals, books and websites. Life member of Indian History Congress, South Indian History Congress, Tamilnadu History Congress, Andhrapradesh History Congress, Mythic Society, All India Oriental Conference etc. Associate member of Institution of Engineers (India).
A paper presented during the 52nd session of Indian History Congress held at New Delhi from February 21-23, 1992. Summary published in the proceedings, p.192.

1. Introduction: About the prevalence of the practice of tying Tali in the Sagam period, two divergent views have so far been expressed, one accepting it while the other denying it. But, scholars belonging to both categories rely only upon the verses of ancient Tamil literature and the commentaries written on them in later period. The former category approaches the issue only on the lines of Aryan-Dravidian controversy, with the implication that Aryans imposed their eight forms of marriage, connected rites and ceremonies including tying of Tali on Dravidians. The latter category too, of course proceeding on the concept of Aryanization of Dravidians, but, asserts that Tali was there in the Tamil society. A critical study is made in this paper to analyze the issue. Before that, it is imperative to understand the man-woman relationship of ancient Tamils to comprehend the processes that led to establishment of marriage as an essential institution of ancient Tamil society.

2. Kalaviyal and Karpiyal: From the ancient extant Tamil work Tolkappiyam, the Kalaviyal (order and conduct of clandestine love) and Karpiyal (order and conduct of open married life) are known. When Kalaviyal created many sociological problems or rather when it was misused and abused by men, Karanams or sacraments were introduced to discipline the erred men, Karpiyal was expounded and Karpu extolled. Karpu, the highest and exalted virtue of women, generally translated as chastity was considered as one of the five virtuous ornaments of Tamil women, with the introduction of sacrament of marriage and connected rituals and rites, marital life was established, defined and accepted.

2.1. Though, there were two forms of union of man and woman among Tamils – Kalavu and Karpu i.e, union in secrecy and union in open (as explained), Tolkappiyar under Agattinai grouped different forms of love and union and they are kakkilai, aintinai and peruntinai. Kakkilai or orutalaikamam was one sided love and there were three forms under this category1. The second group aintinai corresponds to the five natural divisions of land, i.e, kurinji, neydal, mullai, palai and marudam. The third group peruntinai deals with unequal and abnormal love matches, union of different varieties and their evil consequencies2. The last category was of violent nature leading to madalerudhal (riding on Palmyra branch for a horse), varaippaydal (giving up life for marriage) and other peculiar practices.

2.2. Karpiyal is definitely a form of marriage arranged by the parents of lovers and celebrated with ceremonies and rites. Perhaps, to overcome the problems of Kalaviyal, Karpiyal was developed to regulate love and union of man and woman. As there was degradation, as is evident from the verse of Tolkappiyam, the learned men had to introduce more sacraments to impose greater moral and social binding in the marital life.

3. ‘Karpu’ had been defined as the union of a man, who had traditional right or privilege to accept (a woman) and a woman, whose parents had inherited prerogative to give her (for marriage) with sacramental rites (karanams)3. Thus, karpu was the marrying off a girl with ceremonies to a man of status acceptable to the parents of both sides. Even, if a woman went along with her lover on her own accord to his place, where her parents did not have the privilege of giving her for marriage, karanam was made mandatory4. Though, the karanam was prescribed for the union of man and women of three higher categories of the ancient Tamil society, viz., Andanar (priests), Arasar (kings), and Vanigar (businessmen), there was a time when it was applicable to lower category, Vellalar (farmers)5. But, after the appearance of falsehood and immorality, Aiyer / Iyer introduced karanam (i.e, the most elaborate ceremonies of marriage)6. Here, ‘poi’ has been defined as the denial of clandestine love (kalvozhukkam) by man after having relation with her. ‘vazhu’ has been defined as the act of not only denying the clandestine love, but also forsaking her after leading an open domestic life for some time. Thus, the circumstances that necessitated the introduction of sacrament of marriage are explained in Tolkappiyam. The, naturally the external symbolism would have been formulated to differentiate married women from unmarried women, and such external signs used would have been solemnized before parents, elders and others to mark the consummation of the union of couple as evidence.

4. Marriage According to Sangam Literature: The words used to denote marriage are kadi, vadhuvai, manral and varai7. Agananuru verses 86 and 136 give the following details about marriage performed in the Sangam period. The married life is known as karpu in Agattinai. The parents of both bride and groom would agree for the marriage. It would be performed at an auspicious time on an auspicious day on which Moon and Rohini asterism were in conjunction. Time was early morning. The pandal (marriage shed) was constructed in front of the home, spreading white sand. It was decorated beautifully with festoons and garlands. Drums were beaten; lights lit and Gods worshipped. The bride was adorned suitably and brought there, after having a bath by elderly ladies. There was also a practice of ‘Silambu kazhi nonbu’ (anklet removing penance) before the marriage. However, not only unmarried women, but also married women were also wore anklets, as is evident from Kannagi and Kopperundevi. Elderly auspicious women brought water carrying on their heads. Four auspicious women blessed with children and with ‘auspicious ornament’ would enter the shed, showering flowers and paddy on the head of the bride and give her a bath. This bathing ceremony was known as ‘vadhuvai’. At that time, they would bless her to have a chaste life and she was always liked by her husband. The parents also gave their benediction to her. All who come for the marriage would be fed well. The same night the bride and groom would be left in a separate room.

5. Marriage According to Past-Sangam Literature: the details given by the post Sangam literature, the Tamil epics, are considered here. Silappadikaram portrays the marriage of Kovalan and Kannagi, who belonged to rich merchant families. Kovalan was sixteen and Kannagi twelve at the time of their marriage. The parents of them were eager to arrange for their marriages, on an auspicious day. Accordingly, the marriage date was fixed and intimated by auspicious women wearing ‘pride ornament’ (aniyizhai) sitting on elephants. On marriage day, drums and taboures were sounded; conch shells blown; white umbrellas taken out like King’s royal procession and “Mangala ani” was also taken along with the marriage procession.

5.1. The marriage hall was decorated suitably; the top of the mantapam with garlands, inside roof with blue silk cloth, inside which the marriage stage with pearls. The day was auspicious as both Moon and Rohini were in conjunction. Kannagi, who was compared with the unparalleled star of Arunthathi, because of her quality of chastity, was wedded with Kovalan with Vedic rites conducted by an old Parppan. The scene of circumambulation of the fire by the couple was marvelous for the assembled. With the above description, the propounders of the theory that there no Tali was tied during their marriage, assert that the Vedic rites were introduced by the Aryans only during the process of so called Aryanization of Dravidians. But, significantly, they coolly ignore the following details mentioned in the verses. In chapter 4, of Silappadikaram, it has been mentioned that Kannagi did not want to any other ornament other than “Mangala ani”8. Again in chapter.21, she was described as ‘vilangizhaiyal’, i.e, wearing renowned or glorious ornament9. Before marriage, “Mangala ani” was taken around during the procession; after marriage, it has been mentioned that she was wearing it and she was described as ‘vilangizhaiyal’. Therefore, without tying the “Mangala ani”, it could not have been adorning her neck. And none other than Kovalan could have tied it. Hence, just because the Tali tying ceremony was not mentioned, it cannot be said that such custom was not there. Perungathai, another Tamil work also specifies how the fire was kindled by an Andanan, who was well versed with traditional Vedic rites and how the groom went around it with grasping bride’s hand10. From the above, ii is evident that Tali system was there during post sangam period. Now, to examine whether such system was there during Sangam period, and the ornaments used by the ancient Tamil women should be subjected to critical analysis to find out whether they could be used as ‘Tali’.

6. External Symbolism: The ancient Tamil women were wearing various ornaments and jewels made of shell, stone, ceramic, glass, silver, gold and other materials. They include ear studs, bangles, bracelets, rings, necklaces, chains and others. Strings of pearls and “Pulippal Tali” were worn around the neck touching the breast11. Thin bangles were on the forearm and bracelets on the upper arm. Anklet, Silambu or Kinkini was worn on the feet and it was made of gold. Besides such ornaments for neck, ear, wrist, upper-arm, waist and feet, some specific ornaments were used and they were variously mentioned as Valizhai, Aniyizhai, Ayizhai, Ollizhai, Manizhai, Ilangizhai, Seyizhai, Pasizhai, Viralizhai, Teriyizhai, Nerizhai, Tirunthizhai, Punaiyizhai, Minnizhai, Vingizhai, Pulaiyizhai, Avirizhai, Vayangizhai, Chudarizhai and Nunagizhai in Sangam literature. Here, the important key word is “Izhai” and it is used with various adjectives qualifying its nature. It may be mentioned that significance is attached to the wearing and removal od Silambu or anklet and there was a specific function during Sangam age known as “Silambu kazhi nonbu”, i.e, the ‘anklet removing penance’. Anklets were worn by women since childhood and removed, when they attained puberty or at the time of marriage. Such function was known as ‘Silanbu kazhi nonbu’. However, it should be mentioned that married women too wore anklets and hence it might not have been categorically used to differentiate married women from unmarried women. Therefore, the significance of “Izhai” has to be analyzed.

7. Discussion about ‘Izhai’: the word ‘Izhai’ as a noun refers to a thread, jewel or a lady bedecked with jewels and as a verb its meaning is ‘associate, intimate, agree to and consent to’. Now, let us consider the different connotation of it with various adjectives as mentioned above:

sr   Expression   Meaning
1    Valizhai         Young, pure or white ornament
2    Aniyizhai        Layered, orderly, beautiful or pride ornament
3    Ayizhai          An important or choice ornament; women
4    Ollizhai          Bright, good, excellent or beautiful ornament
5    Manizhai        Glorious, great or splendid ornament
6    Ilangizhai       Young or lengthy ornament
7    Seyizhai         A lady bedecked with jewels, woman
8    Pasizhai         Green coloured ornament
9    Viralizhai        Great ornament
10  Teriyizhai        A lady bedecked with jewels
11  Nerizhai          A lady bedecked with jewels
12  Tirunthizhai    Great or pride ornament
13  Punaiyizhai     Decorated, beautiful or new ornament
14  Minnizhai        Lightening or sparkling ornament
15  Vingizhai        Thick ornament
16  Pulaiyizhai       Thin ornament
17  Avirizhai         Bright ornament
18  Vayangizhai    Shining ornament or anklet (Silambu)
19  Chudarizhai    Bright (glowing like flame) ornament
20  Nunagizhai     Accurate, thin, fine or elegant ornament.

Of the above Teriyizhai and Neriyizhai are used to denote ‘a lady dedecked with jewels’. Ayizhai and Punaiyizhai denote woman with ornaments, besides the usual meaning of beautiful or new ornament. Other Izhais denote to special ornament according to its characteristic.

8. ‘Izhai’ represents what?: The above expressions and their meanings have been taken from the ancient Tamil literature. To know exactly what ‘Izhai’ represents, the various expressions used in the respective contexts have to be considered.

Paditruppattu describes how the women who lost their husbands removed their ‘Valiyizhai’ i.e, young, pure or white ornaments (5:15).

Purananuru depicts how the wives of Cholan Karikal Peruvalavan removed their ‘Izhai’, when he died, just like Vengai tree (pterocarpus bilobus) which shed its leaves appearing naked (224: 15-17).

Puram also explains about women with ‘Izhai’ which could not be gifted away. The expression used is “Igayariya Izhai” (127).

Again it describes the women who lost the right of wearing auspicious ornament as “Kazhikala Magaru” (261). This poem accounts how the wife of Kariyadhi, a friend of Avur Mulangizhar followed ‘Kaimmai nonbu’ (the penance of widowhood), after removing ornaments.

Four women, who were wearing ‘Valiyizhai’ and begotten with sons would bless the bride during the marriage as follows: “Without deviating from the quality of chastity, obtaining good benefits of life, earn name for the parents” (136: 11-18).

The bride with ‘Izhaiyani’ (Izhai itself mentioned as ornament) and sweating, was presented to the groom (Agam: 136: 11-18).

The hero entered the house like a thief, for whom his lady-love with ‘Tirunthizhai’ was waiting during the midnight, while their begotten son and mother were sleeping (Natrinai. 40:5-11).

The women with ‘Olizhai’ have been described as traditional wives (Kalittogai. 122: 16,17).

The hero married his lady-love with ‘Tirunthizhai’ on her soft shoulders after making a pledge before sea god that “he would be separated from her” (Kalittogai. 131: 1-2).

A wife has been described as the woman with ‘Seyizhai’ and embodiment of chastity (Purananuru. 3-6).

It is said that there may be redemption for the act of aborting pregnant women with ‘Maniyizhai’ i.e, glorious, great or splendid ornament (Puram. 34: 2,4).

The Pandiya king, Talaiyalanganattu Cheru Venra Nedunjezhiyan defeated his enemies. As he did not want to kill them before their women with ‘Maniyizhai’, he drew them to their native place and killed them. Their women therefore died with shame (Puram. 78: 8-12).

Perisattanar, while blessing the sons of Pandiyan Ilaventhigai Pallittunjiya Nanmaran, exalted his wife as the embodiment of chastity like god and ‘Seyizhai’ i.e, with young or lengthy ornament (Puram.198: 1-5).

Madurakanchi specifies that women were with golden ‘Izhai’ and bangles (444-446).

The hero addresses her lay-love as beautiful lady with ‘Valizhai’ i.e, young, pure or white ornament (Natrinai. 76: 5).

The old city blames the lady-love as the glorious ‘Izhai’ (Valizhai) on her shoulders became loosened or slipped down. The practice was that the Izhai should be worn properly around the neck touching the heart of the lady, who wears it (Natrinai. 85: 2,3).

From the above specific references of Sangam literature, it is very evident that ‘Izhai’ and its other forms refer to an auspicious and important ornament that is nothing but Tali or Mangala Ani (Mangala sutra), though not such words were used in the ancient Tamil literature. It should be noted that the women who have been depicted above were all married with sons and described as auspicious women. No doubt, during marriage, as depicted in Agananuru, the tying of ‘Izhai’ is not mentioned, but its removal at the time oif death of husbands has been mentioned not only in Agananuru itself, but also in other Sangam literature, as has been pointed out above. Definitely, without tying ‘Izhai around the neck of a woman, it could not have been possible for her or there was no necessity to remove after the death of her husband, unless it was considered as so dear to her as auspicious and unifying symbol of husband and wife relationship in ancient Tamil society. The woman, who followed Kaimmai nonbu to avoid sati, also would not have been asked to remove it, if ‘Izhai’ had not represented Tali or Mangala Ani (Manga sutra).

9. Marriage, Izhai, Tiruvalluvar: Though, Tirukkural is considered a post-Sangam work, it clearly embraces Tolkappiyam in principles. It not only glorifies the social acceptance of one man-one woman concept of marriage, but also the virtue of chastity. He has largely followed Tolkappiyar under the two main divisions of Kamattuppal (the nature of love) as Kalavu and Karpu. This confirms that in his times, the customs had not changed and the institutions re-established remained the same as that of ancient period of Tamils. It is well known that Tiruvalluvar does not mention anything and everything in the same place, but in various places with implied meaning. And if he repeats any point in the same place or at different place, it is not that he actually repeats, but implies another meaning. With the background of his couplets on Kalavu and Karpu read with Ilvazhkkai (domestic life), Piranil Vizhaiyamai (not coveting other’s wife), Penvazhiseral (following of woman) and Varaivin magalir (women, who do not come under the purview of marriage), the status marriage and connected issues can be understood. Valluvar refers to a married woman as ‘Varaiyal’12, married man ‘Mananthar’13 and the marriage day ‘Manantha nal’14. Except, ‘Varaiyal’, other references are found in Karpiyal.

9.1. Coming to ‘Izhai’, he uses the following expressions Maniyizhai, Aniyizhai, Seyizhai, Ayizhai and Oliyizhai, with the following meanings:

Sl.No.       Expression        Meaning
1              Maniyizhai        A lady wearing a glorious or auspicious ornament
2              Aniyizhai          A lady wearing an ornament
3              Seyizhai           A lady wearing a glorious or auspicious ornament
4              Ayizhai             A lady wearing a bright ornament
5             Oliyizhai            A lady wearing a choice or important ornament

Under ‘Varavin magalir’(women, who do not come under the purview of marriage), he describes such women as ‘Varaivila Maniyizhaiyal’ i,e, unmarries women wearing glorious or auspicious ornament. In the entire chapter, he accounts the characters and evil consequences for having relations with ‘Varaivil magalir’ or prostitutes. It is very evdent to note as to why the prostitutes, who do not come under the purview of marriage, wear Maniyizhai or auspicious ornament. Tiruvalluvar clearly distinguishes this, when he uses the expression ‘Manzhai’ to the lady-love in the chapter of ‘Nalampunainthuraittal’ (the eulogy of heroine by hero), where she has been described as the lady with glorious or auspicious ornament, but this chapter comes under Kalaviyal. Therefore, during the period of Tiruvalluvar or the evolution of the social process as depicted by him, Izhai, particularly, Manizhai represented ali or Mangala sutra. This is confirmed by the other expressions. After co-habitation, the hero addresses his lady-love as ‘Seyizhai. While appreciating the highest character of love, he calls her as ‘Ayizhai’. And heroine enjoys in explaining their union, with their friend, where she has been characterized as ‘Olizhai’.

10. A careful study of evolution of marriage, sacraments and connected symbolism as gleaned from the ancient Tamil literature (Sangam), Tolkappiyam and Tirukkural, the consistency and the underlying unity of such social processes can be observed. From the evolution of social processes, even the chronology of the verses and Tamil works may be considered, as the ancient Tamil literature / ‘Sangam’ literature is nothing but a compilation of poems written by various poets belonging to various periods. Even though, generally, they fall within the period 300 BCE to 300 CE, as has been accepted by the majority of scholars, definitely, there are poems belonging to earlier and as well as latter periods. The archaeological evidences recovered so far, such as beads, ear studs, bangles, rings, chains and other ornaments made of stone, clay, conch, glass, silver and gold clearly tally with the description of the literature, dating back to 1000 BCE.

10.1. The culture, heritage and civilization represented by such poems would definitely give a mosaic picture in the present order. Therefore, while determining the sociological processes evolved, utmost care must be taken to arrange them chronologically consistent with other factors. When the poems themselves are not arranged chronologically, the social panorama obtained from such interpretation with linguistic and racial bias cannot project a correct picture about the ancient Tamils.

10.2. Just because a particular social aspect, act or process is not mentioned, but its consequences are described elsewhere in the literature, it does not mean that such practice was not prevalent. Conversely, just because certain peculiar practices are not named, but adapted and adopted, it cannot be decided that such customs were also not present. For example, Tolkappiyar talks about four category of division of Tamil society, but the categories have been named as Andanar, Arasar, Vanigar and Vellalar and not as Bramans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. The practice of self-immolation of widows is mentioned, but it is not named as ‘Sati’. The same trend is found in the entire Sangam literature. Karanam was not known as ‘Tirumanam’ / marriage, but mentioned variously as Kadi, Vadhuvai, Manral and Varai. Similarly, Tali were known as ‘Izhai’, with its other forms. Tali system was thus present during the periods of Tolkappiyam, Tirukkural and Sangam literature, and adapted and adopted with karanams. And it was considered by Tamil women not only as an auspicious ornament, but also as an integral part and parcel of perfected married life.

Notes and References:
1. (a). A lover approaches an immature (Pedai) or mature (Perumpedai) girl to express his love.
(b). The lovers are equally anxious for union, but is postponed.
(c). ‘Kollerukodal’ or ‘Erukodal’ is marrying off the girl to the person who wins down a rude bull.
2. These divisions are compared to 1. Brahma, 2. Daiva, 3. Arsa, 4. Prajapatya, 5. Asura, 6. Gandhara, 7. Rakshasa and 8. Paisaca. Tolkappiyar under Kalaviyal specifically mentions about this division as “maraiyor deyattu manral ettanul” (120).
3. Tolkappiyam – Karpiyal – 190.
4. Ibid. 191.
5. Ibid. 192.
6. Ibid. 193.
7. Kadi-Agananuru-136; Vadhuvai-Ibid-166; Kadimagal-Ibid-244-5; Manral-Tolkappiyam-Kalaviyal-120.
8. ‘Mangala Ani’ – Silappathikaram - Madurai kandam-21:46 and 4:20.
‘Vilangizhaiyal’-Silappathikaram-Madurai kandam-21:46.
9. Perungathai-2:3; 9-14; 2:3:108-119.
10. P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, History of Tamils, Madras, 1929, p. 225.
He opined that when poetry first arose among the kuravar the bards naturally sang about the pre-nuptial lovers of hill-chieftains and the presenting their mistresses with leaf-garments (tazhai udai) and the teeth of the tigers which the hill-chiefs killed in the chase; these teeth were strung together and worn hanging from the neck and called ‘Pulippaltali’ from which in later times was evolved the gold tali.
11. Tirukukural-120.
12. Ibid-1221, 1226.
13. Ibid-1223.
14. Ibid-919, 1102, 1110, 1114, 1124, 1329.

Mar 27, 2014

Social Contract & Discourses: Rousseau


Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778).  Social Contract & Discourses.  1913.

A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences
The Second Part

AN ancient tradition passed out of Egypt into Greece, that some god, who was an enemy to the repose of mankind, was the inventor of the sciences. 1 What must the Egyptians, among whom the sciences first arose, have thought of them? And they beheld, near at hand, the sources from which they sprang. In fact, whether we turn to the annals of the world, or eke out with philosophical investigations the uncertain chronicles of history, we shall not find for human knowledge an origin answering to the idea we are pleased to entertain of it at present. Astronomy was born of superstition, eloquence of ambition, hatred, falsehood and flattery; geometry of avarice; physics of an idle curiosity; and even moral philosophy of human pride. Thus the arts and sciences owe their birth to our vices; we should be less doubtful of their advantages, if they had sprung from our virtues.
  Their evil origin is, indeed, but too plainly reproduced in their objects. What would become of the arts, were they not cherished by luxury? If men were not unjust, of what use were jurisprudence? What would become of history, if there were no tyrants, wars, or conspiracies? In a word, who would pass his life in barren speculations, if everybody, attentive only to the obligations of humanity and the necessities of nature, spent his whole life in serving his country, obliging his friends, and relieving the unhappy? Are we then made to live and die on the brink of that well at the bottom of which Truth lies hid? This reflection alone is, in my opinion, enough to discourage at first setting out every man who seriously endeavours to instruct himself by the study of philosophy.
  What a variety of dangers surrounds us! What a number of wrong paths present themselves in the investigation of the sciences! Through how many errors, more perilous than truth itself is useful, must we not pass to arrive at it? The disadvantages we lie under are evident; for falsehood is capable of an infinite variety of combinations; but the truth has only one manner of being. Besides, where is the man who sincerely desires to find it? Or even admitting his good will, by what characteristic marks is he sure of knowing it? Amid the infinite diversity of opinions where is the criterion 2 by which we may certainly judge of it? Again, what is still more difficult, should we even be fortunate enough to discover it, who among us will know how to make right use of it?
  If our sciences are futile in the objects they propose, they are no less dangerous in the effects they produce. Being the effect of idleness, they generate idleness in their turn; and an irreparable loss of time is the first prejudice which they must necessarily cause to society. To live without doing some good is a great evil as well in the political as in the moral world; and hence every useless citizen should be regarded as a pernicious person. Tell me then, illustrious philosophers, of whom we learn the ratios in which attraction acts in vacuo; and in the revolution of the planets, the relations of spaces traversed in equal times; by whom we are taught what curves have conjugate points, points of inflexion, and cusps; how the soul and body correspond, like two clocks, without actual communication; what planets may be inhabited; and what insects reproduce in an extraordinary manner. Answer me, I say, you from whom we receive all this sublime information, whether we should have been less numerous, worse governed, less formidable, less flourishing, or more perverse, supposing you had taught us none of all these fine things.
  Reconsider therefore the importance of your productions; and, since the labours of the most enlightened of our learned men and the best of our citizens are of so little utility, tell us what we ought to think of that numerous herd of obscure writers and useless littérateurs, who devour without any return the substance of the State.
  Useless, do I say? Would God they were! Society would be more peaceful, and morals less corrupt. But these vain and futile declaimers go forth on all sides, armed with their fatal paradoxes, to sap the foundations of our faith, and nullify virtue. They smile contemptuously at such old names as patriotism and religion, and consecrate their talents and philosophy to the destruction and defamation of all that men hold sacred. Not that they bear any real hatred to virtue or dogma; they are the enemies of public opinion alone; to bring them to the foot of the altar, it would be enough to banish them to a land of atheists. What extravagancies will not the rage of singularity induce men to commit!
  The waste of time is certainly a great evil; but still greater evils attend upon literature and the arts. One is luxury, produced like them by indolence and vanity. Luxury is seldom unattended by the arts and sciences; and they are always attended by luxury. I know that our philosophy, fertile in paradoxes, pretends, in contradiction to the experience of all ages, that luxury contributes to the splendour of States. But, without insisting on the necessity of sumptuary laws, can it be denied that rectitude of morals is essential to the duration of empires, and that luxury is diametrically opposed to such rectitude? Let it be admitted that luxury is a certain indication of wealth; that it even serves, if you will, to increase such wealth: what conclusion is to be drawn from this paradox, so worthy of the times? And what will become of virtue if riches are to be acquired at any cost? The politicians of the ancient world were always talking of morals and virtue; ours speak of nothing but commerce and money. One of them will tell you that in such a country a man is worth just as much as he will sell for at Algiers: another, pursuing the same mode of calculation, finds that in some countries a man is worth nothing, and in others still less than nothing; they value men as they do droves of oxen. According to them, a man is worth no more to the State, than the amount he consumes; and thus a Sybarite would be worth at least thirty Lacedæmonians. Let these writers tell me, however, which of the two republics, Sybaris or Sparta, was subdued by a handful of peasants, and which became the terror of Asia.
  The monarchy of Cyrus was conquered by thirty thousand men, led by a prince poorer than the meanest of Persian Satraps: in like manner the Scythians, the poorest of all nations, were able to resist the most powerful monarchs of the universe. When two famous republics contended for the empire of the world, the one rich and the other poor, the former was subdued by the latter. The Roman empire in its turn, after having engulfed all the riches of the universe, fell a prey to peoples who knew not even what riches were. The Franks conquered the Gauls, and the Saxons England, without any other treasures than their bravery and their poverty. A band of poor mountaineers, whose whole cupidity was confined to the possession of a few sheep-skins, having first given a check to the arrogance of Austria, went on to crush the opulent and formidable house of Burgundy, which at that time made the potentates of Europe tremble. In short, all the power and wisdom of the heir of Charles the Fifth, backed by all the treasures of the Indies, broke before a few herring-fishers. Let our politicians condescend to lay aside their calculations for a moment, to reflect on these examples; let them learn for once that money, though it buys everything else, cannot buy morals and citizens. What then is the precise point in dispute about luxury? It is to know which is most advantageous to empires, that their existence should be brilliant and momentary, or virtuous and lasting? I say brilliant, but with what lustre! A taste for ostentation never prevails in the same minds as a taste for honesty. No, it is impossible that understandings, degraded by a multitude of futile cares, should ever rise to what is truly great and noble; even if they had the strength, they would want the courage.
  Every artist loves applause. The praise of his contemporaries is the most valuable part of his recompense. What then will he do to obtain it, if he have the misfortune to be born among a people, and at a time, when learning is in vogue, and the superficiality of youth is in a position to lead the fashion; when men have sacrificed their taste to those who tyrannise over their liberty, and one sex dare not approve anything but what is proportionate to the pusillanimity of the other; 3 when the greatest masterpieces of dramatic poetry are condemned, and the noblest of musical productions neglected? This is what he will do. He will lower his genius to the level of the age, and will rather submit to compose mediocre works, that will be admired during his life-time, than labour at sublime achievements which will not be admired till long after he is dead. Let the famous Voltaire tell us how many nervous and masculine beauties he has sacrificed to our false delicacy, and how much that is great and noble, that spirit of gallantry, which delights in what is frivolous and petty, has cost him.
  It is thus that the dissolution of morals, the necessary consequence of luxury, brings with it in its turn the corruption of taste. Further, if by chance there be found among men of average ability, an individual with enough strength of mind to refuse to comply with the spirit of the age, and to debase himself by puerile productions, his lot will be hard. He will die in indigence and oblivion. This is not so much a prediction, as a fact already confirmed by experience! Yes, Carle and Pierre Vanloo, the time is already come when your pencils, destined to increase the majesty of our temples by sublime and holy images, must fall from your hands, or else be prostituted to adorn the panels of a coach with lascivious paintings. And you, inimitable Pigal, rival of Phidias and Praxiteles, whose chisel the ancients would have employed to carve them gods, whose images almost excuse their idolatry in our eyes; even your hand must condescend to fashion the belly of an ape, or else remain idle.
  We cannot reflect on the morality of mankind without contemplating with pleasure the picture of the simplicity which prevailed in the earliest times. This image may be justly compared to a beautiful coast, adorned only by the hands of nature; towards which our eyes are constantly turned, and which we see receding with regret. While men were innocent and virtuous and loved to have the gods for witnesses of their actions, they dwelt together in the same huts; but when they became vicious, they grew tired of such inconvenient onlookers, and banished them to magnificent temples. Finally, they expelled their deities even from these, in order to dwell there themselves; or at least the temples of the gods were no longer more magnificent than the palaces of the citizens. This was the height of degeneracy; nor could vice ever be carried to greater lengths than when it was seen, supported, as it were, at the doors of the great, on columns of marble, and graven on Corinthian capitals.
  As the conveniences of life increase, as the arts are brought to perfection, and luxury spreads, true courage flags, the virtues disappear; and all this is the effect of the sciences and of those arts which are exercised in the privacy of men’s dwellings. When the Goths ravaged Greece, the libraries only escaped the flames owing to an opinion that was set on foot among them, that it was best to leave the enemy with a possession so calculated to divert their attention from military exercises, and keep them engaged in indolent and sedentary occupations.
  Charles the Eighth found himself master of Tuscany and the kingdom of Naples, almost without drawing sword; and all his court attributed this unexpected success to the fact that the princes and nobles of Italy applied themselves with greater earnestness to the cultivation of their understandings than to active and martial pursuits. In fact, says the sensible person who records these characteristics, experience plainly tells us, that in military matters and all that resemble them application to the sciences tends rather to make men effeminate and cowardly than resolute and vigorous.
  The Romans confessed that military virtue was extinguished among them, in proportion as they became connoisseurs in the arts of the painter, the engraver and the goldsmith, and began to cultivate the fine arts. Indeed, as if this famous country was to be for ever an example to other nations, the rise of the Medici and the revival of letters has once more destroyed, this time perhaps for ever, the martial reputation which Italy seemed a few centuries ago to have recovered.
  The ancient republics of Greece, with that wisdom which was so conspicuous in most of their institutions, forbade their citizens to pursue all those inactive and sedentary occupations, which by enervating and corrupting the body diminish also the vigour of the mind. With what courage, in fact, can it be thought that hunger and thirst, fatigues, dangers and death, can be faced by men whom the smallest want overwhelms and the slightest difficulty repels? With what resolution can soldiers support the excessive toils of war, when they are entirely unaccustomed to them? With what spirits can they make forced marches under officers who have not even the strength to travel on horseback? It is no answer to cite the reputed valour of all the modern warriors who are so scientifically trained. I hear much of their bravery in a day’s battle; but I am told nothing of how they support excessive fatigue, how they stand the severity of the seasons and the inclemency of the weather. A little sunshine or snow, or the want of a few superfluities, is enough to cripple and destroy one of our finest armies in a few days. Intrepid warriors! permit me for once to tell you the truth, which you seldom hear. Of your bravery I am fully satisfied. I have no doubt that you would have triumphed with Hannibal at Cannæ, and at Trasimene: that you would have passed the Rubicon with Cæsar, and enabled him to enslave his country; but you never would have been able to cross the Alps with the former, or with the latter to subdue your own ancestors, the Gauls.
  A war does not always depend on the events of battle: there is in generalship an art superior to that of gaining victories. A man may behave with great intrepidity under fire, and yet be a very bad officer. Even in the common soldier, a little more strength and vigour would perhaps be more useful than so much courage, which after all is no protection from death. And what does it matter to the State whether its troops perish by cold and fever, or by the sword of the enemy?
  If the cultivation of the sciences is prejudicial to military qualities, it is still more so to moral qualities. Even from our infancy an absurd system of education serves to adorn our wit and corrupt our judgment. We see, on every side, huge institutions, where our youth are educated at great expense, and instructed in everything but their duty. Your children will be ignorant of their own language, when they can talk others which are not spoken anywhere. They will be able to compose verses which they can hardly understand; and, without being capable of distinguishing truth from error, they will possess the art of making them unrecognisable by specious arguments. But magnanimity, equity, temperance, humanity and courage will be words of which they know not the meaning. The dear name of country will never strike on their ears; and if they ever hear speak of God, 4 it will be less to fear, than to be frightened of, Him. I would as soon, said a wise man, that my pupil had spent his time in the tennis court as in this manner; for there his body at least would have got exercise.
  I well know that children ought to be kept employed, and that idleness is for them the danger most to be feared. But what should they be taught? This is undoubtedly an important question. Let them be taught what they are to practise when they come to be men; 5 not what they ought to forget.
  Our gardens are adorned with statues and our galleries with pictures. What would you imagine these masterpieces of art, thus exhibited to public admiration, represent? The great men, who have defended their country, or the still greater men who have enriched it by their virtues? Far from it. They are the images of every perversion of heart and mind, carefully selected from ancient mythology, and presented to the early curiosity of our children, doubtless that they may have before their eyes the representations of vicious actions, even before they are able to read.
  Whence arise all those abuses, unless it be from that fatal inequality introduced among men by the difference of talents and the cheapening of virtue? This is the most evident effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous of all their consequences. The question is no longer whether a man is honest, but whether he is clever. We do not ask whether a book is useful, but whether it is well-written. Rewards are lavished on with and ingenuity, while virtue is left unhonoured. There are a thousand prizes for fine discourses, and none for good actions. I should be glad, however, to know whether the honour attaching to the best discourse that ever wins the prize in this Academy is comparable with the merit of having founded the prize.
  A wise man does not go in chase of fortune; but he is by no means insensible to glory, and when he sees it so ill distributed, his virtue, which might have been animated by a little emulation, and turned to the advantage of society, droops and dies away in obscurity and indigence. It is for this reason that the agreeable arts must in time everywhere be preferred to the useful; and this truth has been but too much confirmed since the revival of the arts and sciences. We have physicists, geometricians, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians, and painters in plenty; but we have no longer a citizen among us; or if there be found a few scattered over our abandoned countryside, they are left to perish there unnoticed and neglected. Such is the condition to which we are reduced, and such are our feelings towards those who give us our daily bread, and our children milk.
  I confess, however, that the evil is not so great as it might have become. The eternal providence, in placing salutary simples beside noxious plants, and making poisonous animals contain their own antidote, has taught the sovereigns of the earth, who are its ministers, to imitate its wisdom. It is by following this example that the truly great monarch, to whose glory every age will add new lustre, drew from the very bosom of the arts and sciences, the very fountains of a thousand lapses from rectitude, those famous societies, which, while they are depositaries of the dangerous trust of human knowledge, are yet the sacred guardians of morals, by the attention they pay to their maintenance among themselves in all their purity, and by the demands which they make on every member whom they admit.
  These wise institutions, confirmed by his august successor and imitated by all the kings of Europe, will serve at least to restrain men of letters, who, all aspiring to the honour of being admitted into these Academies, will keep watch over themselves, and endeavour to make themselves worthy of such honour by useful performances and irreproachable morals. Those Academies also, which, in proposing prizes for literary merit, make choice of such subjects as are calculated to arouse the love of virtue in the hearts of citizens, prove that it prevails in themselves, and must give men the rare and real pleasure of finding learned societies devoting themselves to the enlightenment of mankind, not only by agreeable exercises of the intellect, but also by useful instructions.
  An objection which may be made is, in fact, only an additional proof of my argument. So much precaution proves but too evidently the need for it. We never seek remedies for evils that do not exist. Why, indeed, must these bear all the marks of ordinary remedies, on account of their inefficacy? The numerous establishments in favour of the learned are only adapted to make men mistake the objects of the sciences, and turn men’s attention to the cultivation of them. One would be inclined to think, from the precautions everywhere taken, that we are overstocked with husbandmen, and are afraid of a shortage of philosophers. I will not venture here to enter into a comparison between agriculture and philosophy, as they would not bear it. I shall only ask What is philosophy? What is contained in the writings of the most celebrated philosophers? What are the lessons of these friends of wisdom. To hear them, should we not take them for so many mountebanks, exhibiting themselves in public, and crying out, Here, Here, come to me, I am the only true doctor? One of them teaches that there is no such thing as matter, but that everything exists only in representation. Another declares that there is no other substance than matter, and no other God than the world itself. A third tells you that there are no such things as virtue and vice, and that moral good and evil are chimeras; while a fourth informs you that men are only beasts of prey, and may conscientiously devour one another. Why, my great philosophers, do you not reserve these wise and profitable lessons for your friends and children? You would soon reap the benefit of them, nor should we be under any apprehension of our own becoming your disciples.
  Such are the wonderful men, whom their contemporaries held in the highest esteem during their lives, and to whom immortality has been attributed since their decease. Such are the wise maxims we have received from them, and which are transmitted, from age to age, to our descendants. Paganism, though given over to all the extravagances of human reason, has left nothing to compare with the shameful monuments which have been prepared by the art of printing, during the reign of the gospel. The impious writings of Leucippus and Diagoras perished with their authors. The world, in their days, was ignorant of the art of immortalising the errors and extravagancies of the human mind. But thanks to the art of printing 6 and the use we make of it, the pernicious reflections of Hobbes and Spinoza will last for ever. Go, famous writings, of which the ignorance and rusticity of our forefathers would have been incapable. Go to our descendants, along with those still more pernicious works which reek of the corrupted manners of the present age! Let them together convey to posterity a faithful history of the progress and advantages of our arts and sciences. If they are read, they will leave not a doubt about the question we are now discussing, and unless mankind should then be still more foolish than we, they will lift up their hands to Heaven and exclaim in bitterness of heart: “Almighty God! thou who holdest in Thy hand the minds of men, deliver us from the fatal arts and sciences of our forefathers; give us back ignorance, innocence and poverty, which alone can make us happy and are precious in Thy sight.”
  But if the progress of the arts and sciences has added nothing to our real happiness; if it has corrupted our morals, and if that corruption has vitiated our taste, what are we to think of the herd of text-book authors, who have removed those impediments which nature purposely laid in the way to the Temple of the Muses, in order to guard its approach and try the powers of those who might be tempted to seek knowledge? What are we to think of those compilers who have indiscreetly broken open the door of the sciences, and introduced into their sanctuary a populace unworthy to approach it, when it was greatly to be wished that all who should be found incapable of making a considerable progress in the career of learning should have been repulsed at the entrance, and thereby cast upon those arts which are useful to society. A man who will be all his life a bad versifier, or a third-rate geometrician, might have made nevertheless an excellent clothier. Those whom nature intended for her disciples have not needed masters. Bacon, Descartes and Newton, those teachers of mankind, had themselves no teachers. What guide indeed could have taken them so far as their sublime genius directed them? Ordinary masters would only have cramped their intelligence, by confining it within the narrow limits of their own capacity. It was from the obstacles they met with at first, that they learned to exert themselves, and bestirred themselves to traverse the vast field which they covered. If it be proper to allow some men to apply themselves to the study of the arts and sciences, it is only those who feel themselves able to walk alone in their footsteps and to outstrip them. It belongs only to these few to raise monuments to the glory of the human understanding. But if we are desirous that nothing should be above their genius, nothing should be beyond their hopes. This is the only encouragement they require. The soul insensibly adapts itself to the objects on which it is employed, and thus it is that great occasions produce great men. The greatest orator in the world was Consul of Rome, and perhaps the greatest of philosophers Lord Chancellor of England. Can it be conceived that, if the former had only been a professor at some University, and the latter a pensioner of some Academy, their works would not have suffered from their situation. Let not princes disdain to admit into their councils those who are most capable of giving them good advice. Let them renounce the old prejudice, which was invented by the pride of the great, that the art of governing mankind is more difficult than that of instructing them; as if it was easier to induce men to do good voluntarily, than to compel them to it by force. Let the learned of the first rank find an honourable refuge in their courts; let them there enjoy the only recompense worthy of them, that of promoting by their influence the happiness of the peoples they have enlightened by their wisdom. It is by this means only that we are likely to see what virtue, science and authority can do, when animated by the noblest emulation, and working unanimously for the happiness of mankind.
  But so long as power alone is on one side, and knowledge and understanding alone on the other, the learned will seldom make great objects their study, princes will still more rarely do great actions, and the peoples will continue to be, as they are, mean, corrupt and miserable.
  As for us, ordinary men, on whom Heaven has not been pleased to bestow such great talents; as we are not destined to reap such glory, let us remain in our obscurity. Let us not covet a reputation we should never attain, and which, in the present state of things, would never make up to us for the trouble it would have cost us, even if we were fully qualified to obtain it. Why should we build our happiness on the opinions of others, when we can find it in our own hearts? Let us leave to others the task of instructing mankind in their duty, and confine ourselves to the discharge of our own. We have no occasion for greater knowledge than this.
  Virtue! sublime science of simple minds, are such industry and preparation needed if we are to know you? Are not your principles graven on every heart? Need we do more, to learn your laws, than examine ourselves, and listen to the voice of conscience, when the passions are silent?
  This is the true philosophy, with which we must learn to be content, without envying the fame of those celebrated men, whose names are immortal in the republic of letters. Let us, instead of envying them, endeavour to make, between them and us, that honourable distinction which was formerly seen to exist between two great peoples, that the one knew how to speak, and the other how to act, aright.

Note 1. It is easy to see the allegory in the fable of Prometheus: and it does not appear that the Greeks, who chained him to the Caucasus, had a better opinion of him than the Egyptians had of their god Theutus. The Satyr, says an ancient fable, the first time he saw a fire, was going to kiss and embrace it; but Prometheus cried out to him to forbear, or his beard would rue it. It burns, says he, everything that touches it.
Note 2. The less we know, the more we think we know. The peripatetics doubted of nothing. Did not Descartes construct the universe with cubes and vortices? And is there in all Europe one single physicist who does not boldly explain the inexplicable mysteries of electricity, which will, perhaps, be for ever the despair of real philosophers? 
Note 3. I am far from thinking that the ascendancy which women have obtained over men is an evil in itself. It is a present which nature has made them for the good of mankind. If better directed, it might be productive of as much good, as it is now of evil. We are not sufficiently sensible of what advantage it would be to society to give a better education to that half of our species which governs the other. Men will always be what women choose to make them. If you wish then that they should be noble and virtuous, let women be taught what greatness of soul and virtue are. The reflections which this subject arouses, and which Plato formerly made, deserve to be more fully developed by a pen worthy of following so great a master, and defending so great a cause.
Note 4. Pensées philosophiques (Diderot). 
Note 5. Such was the education of the Spartans with regard to one of the greatest of their kings. It is well worthy of notice, says Montaigne, that the excellent institutions of Lycurgus, which were in truth miraculously perfect, paid as much attention to the bringing up of youth as if this were their principal object, and yet, at the very seat of the Muses, they make so little mention of learning that it seems as if their generous-spirited youth disdained every other restraint, and required, instead of masters of the sciences, instructors in valour, prudence and justice alone.

  Let us hear next what the same writer says of the ancient Persians. Plato, says he, relates that the heir to the throne was thus brought up. At his birth he was committed, not to the care of women, but to eunuchs in the highest authority and near the person of the king, on account of their virtue. These undertook to render his body beautiful and healthy. At seven years of age they taught him to ride and go hunting. At fourteen he was placed in the hands of four, the wisest, the most just, the most temperate and the bravest persons in the kingdom. The first instructed him in religion, the second taught him to adhere inviolably to truth, the third to conquer his passions, and the fourth to be afraid of nothing. All, I may add, taught him to be a good man; but not one taught him to be learned.

  Astyages, in Xenophon, desires Cyrus to give him an account of his last lesson. It was this, answered Cyrus, one of the big boys of the school having a small coat, gave it to a little boy and took away from him his coat, which was larger. Our master having appointed me arbiter in the dispute, I ordered that matters should stand as they were, as each boy seemed to be better suited than before. The master, however, remonstrated with me, saying that I considered only convenience, whereas justice ought to have been the first concern, and justice teaches that no one should suffer forcible interference with what belongs to him. He added that he was punished for his wrong decision, just as boys are punished in our country schools when they forget the first aorist of [Greek]. My tutor must make me a fine harangue, in genere demonstrativo, before he will persuade me that his school is as good as this.
Note 6. If we consider the frightful disorders which printing has already caused in Europe, and judge of the future by the progress of its evils from day to day, it is easy to foresee that sovereigns will hereafter take as much pains to banish this dreadful art from their dominions, as they ever took to encourage it. The Sultan Achmet, yielding to the importunities of certain pretenders to taste, consented to have a press erected at Constantinople; but it was hardly set to work before they were obliged to destroy it, and throw the plant into a well.

  It is related that the Caliph Omar, being asked what should be done with the library at Alexandria, answered in these words. “If the books in the library contain anything contrary to the Alcoran, they are evil and ought to be burnt; if they contain only what the Alcoran teaches, they are superfluous.” This reasoning has been cited by our men of letters as the height of absurdity; but if Gregory the Great had been in the place of Omar, and the Gospel in the place of the Alcoran, the library would still have been burnt, and it would have been perhaps the finest action of his life

Mar 23, 2014

Sati in the Ancient Tamil Literature

Sati in the Ancient Tamil Literature
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao is an Independent / private Researcher. Prersented more than 200 papers in national and international conferences and seminars of which 139 have been published in the proceedings, journals, books and websites. Life member of Indian History Congress, South Indian History Congress, Tamilnadu History Congress, Andhrapradesh History Congress, Mythic Society, All India Oriental Conference etc. Associate member of Institution of Engineers (India).

A paper presented at South Indian History Congress held at
Calicut from February 1-3, 1991.

1. Introduction: Roop Kanwar’s sati has created a great furor among the historians and scholars in recent times. Their reactions varied from the condemnations of such obscurantist practices to writing books giving historical background and origin of sati. The Greek, Roman and Scythian origins have been attributed, as it has great impact on the psyche of women even today in northern India.

1.1. It has been argued by them that sati, now popularly known and understood as the practice of widow-burning did not originate from the ancient Indians, as it is commonly believed sand propagated, but had roots in the ancient Egypt, Greek, and other European civilizations. It was among the Gauls, the Goths, the Norwegians, the Celts, the Slavs and the Tharcians. In Egypt, the processions of a king, Pharoah were buried along with him or a pyramid built over his body, while in Greece women entered into the pyres of their dead husbands. Similar pyre sacrifices were prevalent among almost all ethnic groups of Europe. In China, if a widow killed herself in order to follow her dead husband to heaven, her corpse was taken out in a great procession1. Col. James Tod mentions that Female immolation originated with the Sun-worshipping Saivas and was common to all those nations who adored this as the most splendid object of the visible creation2.

1.2. Dr. Panduranga Vaman Kane, the author of the ‘History of Dharmasastras’ has suggested that the practice might have been brought into India by Kushanas. Max Mueller has also alluded to this in his work, ‘The History of ancient Sanskrit literature’. At the time of the great controversy that raged during the legal prohibition of the sati by William Bentick, it was argued that the funeral hymn in Rigveda refers to widows ascending the funeral pyre. The case, however, would be rendered plausible only by fraudulently changing the last word of the stanza from ‘agre’ to ‘agneh’3. But, the verse in question refers to women with their husbands living coming forward to anoint corpse before it was consigned to flames and contains no reference whatsoever to any widow immolating herself on her husbands’ funeral pyre4. And the current literature that has flooded the shelves of libraries also proceed on the same lines interpreting the verses of Vedas, Dharmasastras, Epics and Puranas, and concluding that the practice developed in the early centuries of the Current Era and spread to north to the south in the tenth century. But, surprisingly in the ancient Tamil literature, there are many references about sati, though its name as such is not mentioned. From such references, the possible origin of it from the south or the prevalence of such practice in the ancient period of Tamils, even before its advent in the north is worth considering and thus studied in this paper.

2. About the word ‘Sati’: The word ‘Sati’ as such is not used, though the practice was there in the ancient period of the Tamils. Tippaydal (jumping into flames), Tikkulittal (taking bath in flames) and Udankattai erudal (entering into pyre along with the dead husband) are the expressions used. Originally, the word ‘sati’ had a wider meaning as ‘your honour’ or ‘your ladyship’ (‘bhavati’, in Sankskrit) used to address ladies. It also meant a good and virtuous woman and a loyal wife. But, only two hundred years ago, under the impact of missionary polemics, the word acquired the connotation of ‘faithful widow who burns herself with her husband’s corpse’, a meaning, which Moiner Williams gives in his Sanskrit-English dictionary. On the same argument, he defines ‘Satitva’ as ‘wifely fidelity’ (especially as evinced by cremation with a husband’s corpse). He quotes H. H. Wilson as authority in his first edition in marginal note for this definition. Now the word has been changing from virtuous woman to a loyal wife to a faithful widow burning herself on the funeral pyre of her husband to widow burning. The European conception of ‘suttee’ and its evolved understanding have led the leftist oriented intelligentsia to arrive at the present day connotation. But, in the ancient Tamil literature, the expressions Tippaydal, Tikulittal and Udankattai erudal denote only the voluntary self-immolation by the virtuous wife and it can be understood from the following discussion. Before that, the social and marital background of the ancient Tamils should be understood.

3. Kalaviyal and Karpiyal: From the ancient extant Tamil work Tolkappiyam, the Kalaviyal (order and conduct of clandestine love) and Karpiyal (order and conduct of open married life) are known. When Kalaviyal created many sociological problems or rather when it was misused and abused by men, Karanams or sacraments were introduced to discipline the erred men, Karpiyal was expounded and Karpu extolled. Karpu, the highest and exalted virtue of women, generally translated as chastity, was considered as one of the five virtuous ornaments of Tamil women. With the introduction of sacrament of marriage and connected rituals and rites, marital life was established, defined and accepted.

3.1. In ancient times, there were two forms of union of man and woman among Tamils – Kalavu and Karpu i.e, union in secrecy and union in open (as explained). But, Tolkappiyar under Agattinai grouped different forms of love and union and they are kakkilai, aintinai and peruntinai. Kakkilai or orutalaikamam was one sided love and there were three forms under this category.
ó A lover approaches an immature (pedai) or matured (perumpedai) girl to express his love.
ó The lovers are equally anxious for union, but postponed.
ó Kollerukodal or Erukodal is marrying off the girl to the person who wins down a rude bull.
The second group aintinai (Five Tinais) corresponds to the five natural divisions of land, i.e, kurinji, neydal, mullai, palai and marudam. The third group peruntinai deals with unequal and abnormal love matches, union of different varieties and their evil consequencies. The last category was of violent nature leading to madalerudhal (riding on Palmyra branch for a horse), varaippaydal (giving up life for marriage) and other peculiar practices. In any case, these violent methods adopted and adapted by men only to rouse sympathetic feelings to compensate their ugly passions and ultimately giving up their lives.

3.2. Karpiyal is definitely a form of marriage arranged by the parents of lovers and celebrated with ceremonies and rites. Perhaps, to overcome the problems of Kalaviyal, Karpiyal was developed to regulate love and union of man and woman. As there was degradation, as is evident from the verse of Tolkappiyam, the learned men had to introduce more sacraments to impose greater moral and social binding in the marital life.

3.3. Karpu was the marrying off the girl with ceremonies to a man of status acceptable to the parents of both sides (Tolkappiyam, Karpiyal.142). In cases, even where elopement took place the ceremonial union or karanam was effected (143). This karanams or the specific wedding ceremony was once common and indispensable to the members of four groups of the society (144). But, after the appearance of falsehood and immorality, Iyer introduced karanam i.e, the most elaborate ceremonies of marriage (145). These karanams imposed stringent restrictions on the marital life of men and women. Ettuttogai and Pattppattu reflect the same picture of social life consistent with Tolkappiyam. Though, Tirukkural is considered as a post-Sangam period work, it closely embraces Tolkappiyam in principle. It not only glorifies the social acceptance of one-man one-woman concept of marriage, but also the virtue of chastity.

3.4. Ancient Tamils had belief in karma and rebirth (Puram.27, 214, 236, 240). Then, the belief that a wife would have the same husband even in the forthcoming births also took deep root in the minds of women. It was taught to the women that ‘husband is everything for a woman and she should worship him as a God’. Although, ‘nothing is permanent’ concept is stressed, at the same time, the possessive nature of husband and wife was also asserted. Though there was a practice prevalent among men to have more wives, but at the same time living with a single wife was practiced as good and accepted quality of society (Puram.71, 73, 245). Similarly, husband was considered as the sole partner, protector, mentor and even God for a wife. The virtuous women were even prepared to sacrifice their body, wealth and soul for the sake of their husbands. Many verses were explicitly point out that their hair of a woman should only be touched by her husband and not by others5. Thus belief led to the shaving off hair, after the death of her husband as a part of kaimmai nonbu (penance of widowhood), if a woman did not want to perform sati. Wife was made to take part in each and every aspect of the life of her husband and she developed an attitude that she could not live without him. The concepts of karma, rebirth and having the same husband in the next birth might have encouraged women to become sati. The cruel practice of kaimmai nonbu was described in many places6. This includes shaving off of hair, removal of bangles and other ornaments, eating tasteless food prepared with a kind of low quality rice mixed with tamarind, bathing in cold water and sleeping on grass spread on the floor. And there are references in Purananuru describing how women prefer to die along with their husbands than to follow kaimmai nonbu. Therefore, it is evident that the concepts of karma and rebirth, cruelty of kaimmai nonbu and having the same husband in the next birth compelled women to perform sati. Now, the references about the incidences of ‘sati’ are discussed specifically.

4. Tolkappiyam: Tolkappiyar makes a specific reference about a virtuous wife entering into flames of the funeral pyre of her husband, when he explains about ‘tabudara’ situation and ‘tabada’ situation. The former was the situation of a man who lost his wife and the latter that of a woman who lost her husband7. In another place, he describes as to how the wife of a warrior died hugging his body on the battle field i.e, she gave up her life by embracing his head. This is known as ‘kondon talaiyodu mudinda nilai’ i.e, the situation where a wife gives up her life with the head of her dead husband. In Ramayana, we find that Mandodari died with her husband Ravana on the battle field.

5. Purananuru: It gives more details about sati. The poem 62 mentions hoe Seraman Kudakko Nedunjeraladhan and Chozhan Verpakradakkaip Peruvirakkilli fought a war with each other because of their imperialistic ambition to conquer other’s territory and died on the battle field. Their wives also died along with them, as they did not want to follow kaimmai nonbu. Eating green herbs and taking cold water bath are mentioned here as part of the procedure of kaimmai. The poet Kazhattalaiyar has described the event.

5.1. The verse 240 describes about the cremation of Ay Andiran and the death of his wives along with him. The poem specifically mentions that the bodies were burnt and his women went to devaloka – the world of gods, along with him.

5.2. The verses 245 and 247 detail about the sati of Perungopendu. She, the wife of Butappandiyan, was a learned lady with the knowledge of politics and justice. After the death of her husband, as there was no royal member to rule, the scholars and others advised her to take over the kingdom for the welfare of the people. But, without her husband, she did not want to live. She compared the living, following kaimmai nonbu with the unbroken bonded life with her husband in the next life and decided to give up her life. So she addressed the scholars like this; “Oh the learned scholars! You advice me not to die along with my husband. But, I am not a woman like one who follows kaimmai by taking a tasteless food prepared with low quality rice (like the seeds of cucumber whose surface resembles the back of a squirrel) and gingely paste but without ghee and sleeping without bed. I am prepared to take a different bed in the crematory grounds. For me, the pond with blossomed lotus and the fire with flames are one and the same”. Madurai Peralavayar, a poet was present, when she entered into the flames. That scene created an indelible impression on his mind, which resulted in the form of a poem. The place where she entered into fire was before the temple of Kadukizhal in the crematory grounds. The fire was set up ready for her with flames glowing. She came there, after taking bath with her drenched hair, went around the pyre and jumped into it, thinking only her husband.

5.3. The poem 256 is sung by an anonymous female poet. She lost her husband in a battle. As she did not want to live without her husband, she addressed the Potter: “Oh, Potter, I came here with husband just like a lizard which holds tight to the potter’s wheel even though it rotates around the axle. But, now as I have lost him, kindly manufacture a bigger tazhi, so that it can accommodate me along with him”. This implies that besides dying on the pyre along with husband or jumping into fire like Perungopendu, the practice of burying along with dead husband might have also prevalent among the ancient Tamils.

5.4 The poem 78 describes how the seven kings who opposed Talaiyalangalattu Ceru Venra Pandiyan Nedunjezhiyan were got defeated and their wives, who were having respectable ornaments, died with the shame. Here, it is really intriguing as to why their wives should die, just because they were defeated in the battle field. The poet might have implied that they might have been killed and their wives performed sati along with them in the battle field.

5.5. Marokkattu Pasalaiyar has sung the poem 280, which gives the following details: “A wife of a fallen hero says to the poet that without her husband, the Panars (singers), Viraliyars (dancers) and others may not be able to live. I do not know the fate of your lives. Your existence may be are and uncertain without him, but my existence will be more rare and uncertain without him”. In other words, she implies that she will not be alive without her husband, but as her husband was already killed in the battle and she knows the fact, according to the tradition prevailed, she might have decided to give up her life along with her husband and she would have implied this indirectly in comparing with the life of singers and dancers.

6. Kuruntogai: The verse 69 narrates how a monkey commits suicide voluntarily after making necessary arrangements for her children with her relatives, as she does not want to follow kaimmai! Actually, here the poet might have attributed the sati performed by some woman to the dying of a monkey, as a doubt arises as to whether a monkey actually sacrificed her life avoiding kaimmai! It has been clearly mentioned that the women with children need not have performed sati. Therefore, the concept of performing sati with children is against the tradition of ancient Tamils. Hence, it is evident that the poet has mentioned about sati of some women or he has clearly picturised the prevalence of the practice of sati during his period.

7. Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai: Imayavaramban Nedunjeraladhan fought a war with the contemporary Chola king, in which, both the monarchs lost their lives and their queens performed sati. Later, we find that the mother of Senguttuvan performs sati at the time of the death of her husband. Senguttuvan leads an expedition to the Himalayas to bring a stone for making an image of her mother and another for the goddess of chastity8. Though Toklappiyar mentions about sati and planting of virakkals (hero stones) in memory of fallen heroes and the six stages involved in planting, the latter-day practice of raising a cenotaph for the sati called satikal, maha satikal or mastikal is not mentioned in the ancient Tamil literature.

7.1. The six stages9 involved in planting virakkal were –

ó to find out the appropriate stone,
ó to fix an auspicious time for carving out and inscribing,
ó to get the stone bathed in sacred waters,
ó to plant in the place already fixed and
ó to celebrate it as a deity.

As Senguttuvan brought a stone and built a place of worship for the goddess of chastity, similar practice might have also been followed for the women who performed sati and such stones might have been known as saktikals and images as that of goddess of chastity.

7.2. In Manimekhalai10, we find the interesting episodes of Adhirai performing sati, when she came to know that her husband was killed in ship wreckage. Without her husband, she could not think of living, so she decided to raise fire and die by entering into it. She explained her position to the learned. Then, after having cold water bath, dressed her with new cloths, adorned her hair with fragrant flowers and applied sandal paste on her, she came to the fire which was kept ready for her. She saw surrounding people of the city and the flames glowing. Forgetting even herself, concentrating on her husband and praying to fire god requesting him to maker her to reach her husband, she jumped into the fire. The on looking people closed their eyes with anguish and sorrow. But, lo! The moment, she jumped the sandal paste on her did not dry, the flowers did not get blackened and the new dress did get affected. She appeared like Lakshmi who seated on the lotus. Though the historians are divided about the date of Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai, they cannot deny the fact that the prevalence of sati at the time of composing of the epics or during the period of the characters depicted.

8.Does Tirukkural make reference to Sati? It has already been mentioned that Tiruvalluvar has followed Tolkappiyar and not made any departure from the treatment of his subject. He has largely followed him under two main divisions of Kamattuppal and Kalavu and Karpu. This confirms that in his time, the customs has not changed and the institutions remained almost the same as that of the ancient period of the Tamils. It is well known that Tiruvalluvar does not mention about anything and everything in the same place, but in various places with implied meaning. And if he repeats any point in the same place or at different place, it is not actually he repeats, but implies another meaning. With the background of his couplets on kalavu and karpu reading the chapter Manam (Honour) with Vazhkkai Tunai nalam (Benefits of having a wife with good qualities), we can find the consistency of the subject dealt with.

8.1. Under the chapter ‘Honour’ (Manam), he explains about the importance of it and its effect on society. He says that the degraded or deviated path of the people of respected family is just like the falling of hair from the head (964). Again, in a following couplet (969), he asserts that the people who respect honour as great virtue in their life would die for its sake, just like kavariman (a kind of deer) that dies immediately, even a single hair is removed from her body. First, he compares the degraded life with the hair removed from the head and then, dying for honour with that of kavariman. In the present context, the removal of hair is very significant, as it directly points to kaimmai nonbu. And kaimmai was prescribed to women, if they did not want to or they were not in a position to perform sati.

8.2. In the chapter, “The virtue of an ideal wife”, he defines that the ideal wife is one who protects her chastity without any blemish, her husband, the established name and fame and follows the above qualities strictly (56). And in the very following couplet, he asks “What is the use of prison and other safety measures to protect the women by their counterparts, if the women cannot protect themselves?” (57). That is, he clearly implies that the self-efforts or voluntary actions to safeguard themselves are the real safety measures for protecting their respect, honour and chastity. This, he talks about the qualities of women on the earth. But, suddenly, in the following couplet (58), he tells about the place of women getting in heaven after death as follows: “If the woman has honour of worshipping her husband in the present life, she will have greater honour even in the world of gods with their blessings”. So, if a woman does not have the honour of worshipping her husband in the present life, what is her position in heavens? Suppose, if she losses her husband, what she can do? So, here, definitely, consistent with the ancient Tamil tradition, he implies that virtuous women may have to perform sati, if her husband dies, so that she can have the honour in heavens. As Valluvar lived after Tolkappiyar, definitely, he must have known the prevailing practices of Tamizhagam og his times. As he used to imply many other aspects also in an indirect way, it is evident that Valluvar has referred to sati indirectly, but, strictly in the context of ancient social life of Tamils.

8.3. The reading of ancient Tamil literature gives a picture of the following three types of chaste women:
♂ Those who die immediately the moment their husbands die
♂ After the death of husbands, those who raise fire and then perform sati and
♂ Those who follow kaimmai nonbu without dying.

In fact later, Mamimekhalai talks about these, happening in the case of chaste women (Mani.III:42-47). Kopperundevi, wife of Ariyapadaikadanda Nedunjezhiyan and Perungopendu, wife of Pudapandiyan are examples respectively for the first two categories. About the widows following kaimmai, mention has already been made. This later classification of chaste Tamil women clearly shows that sati was an accepted custom of the ancient Tamil society. However, nowhere it is mentioned that the sati was performed by force or committed against the will of the women. The cult of goddess of chastity might have been the continuance of the practice of worship of the symbols and carved stone images erected in the memory of women who performed sati. The two expeditions of Senguttuvan were for bringing a stone from the Himalayas first for his mother, who performed sati and then for the goddess of chastity confirm the rise of such cult or slow transformation of sati-worship to pattini-worship. Indeed, Manimekhalai (Chapter.6) gives a very detailed description of the cemetery and crematory grounds called Cakravalakottam in Puhar, where there were many monumental shrines built of burnt bricks of various sizes in long lines over the burials of saints, kings or wives who performed sati along with their husbands with the indications of their caste, ashram, sex and other details.

9. Conclusion: The present-day scholars11 who try to trace the origin of sati in India, always resort to start their studies with Rigveda and argue that the practice started only by fraudulently changing the last word of a stanza of the Rigveda from “agre” to “agneh”. At the same time they also argue that Rigveda and Dharmasasras do not ‘prescribe the practice of sati but simply points out the existence of the custom of the living woman lying with their dead husband’. The parts of Puranas belonging to the period 6th to 16th centuries glorify the rite. Nirnayasindhu and Dharmasindhu which describe the rite belong to 17th century. P. V. Kane contends that several ancient texts ascribed to Paithinasi, Angiras and Ayagrapad could be quoted to prove that self-immolation by widows was in fact absolutely forbidden. None of the Dharmasastras except Vishnu contains any reference to such burning. They also assert that ‘the earliest recorded sati in India in 317 BCE was chronicled by Alexander’s soldiers in Punjab and the latest in 1987 in Deorala’. The practice developed in the early centuries of the current era in the north and spread to the south only in the 10th century. But, all of these scholars have not considered the prevalence of such practice in the south in the same period or perhaps even before the advent of the Christ. Though A. S. Atlekar mentions about the sati of Perungopendu, he throws suspicion over her historicity itself. Though Buddhist literature, Megasthenes and Kautilya do not mention the custom, more importance and cognizance are given to the Greek writers for recording the ‘first sati performed in India’, ignoring the literary evidence of the ancient Tamils. As Kharavela and Adokan inscriptions make specific references about the confederation of Tamil kings, Pandiyas and Cholas, their existence cannot be ignored altogether. Unless coordinated and correlated study numismatics and epigraphic evidences with the literary evidences pointed out is conducted, a complete picture of any historical event or process of ancient India cannot be obtained.

9.1. Now, the majority of scholars and historians accept that the period of Sangam may be restricted to the range 300 BCE to 300 CE with all chronological puzzles. If the writings of the foreigners like Greeks and others have to be accepted by removing chaff from the grains, then the same methodology should be applied to the ancient Tamil literature also. Then only the complete history of India can be written, inscriptions and Kingdoms, kings and people can be understood in the right perspective. Therefore, if the prevalence of the practice of sati in the earliest period of the Tamils is taken into account, historians have to consider the following points:

whether the practice of sati was a Tamilian origin
Whether the practice was borrowed as propounded by some scholars.
whether the practice was spread to south from north or otherwise or
Whether the practice was independently and simultaneously prevalent at the two ends of the country and spread throughout. After considering perhaps historians may have to rewrite the history as for as sati is concerned, as it has great impact on many aspects of social sciences and particularly in history itself.

Based on the above Tamil literary evidences, it is concluded that –

The practice of sati was there since c.500-300 BCE, though the name as such is not found in the Sangam literature.
Such practice had neither any religious sanctity-influence nor compulsion supported by any religious literature.
That is prevalence of such practice had nothing to do with ‘Aryanization”, as suggested by some scholars and historians.

Notes and References

Tawney, Kathasaritsagara, Vol.I, Terminal Essay on Suttee by Pensei.

Col. James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Motilal Bararasidas, New Delhi, Vol.II, 1971, p.737.

Rigveda, X.18.7.

A. S. Atlekar, The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, 1962, p.112.

Purananuru – 113, 280; Kuruntogai – 225; Paditruppattu – 44.

Puram. 25, 62, 230, 234, 235, 246, 250, 280.

Tolkapiyam – Poruladhikaram – Purattitaoyiyal. 79.

Silappatikaram – Kandam.25, katchi.11; 160-4; 28 (nadukal), 11:119-121; Kandam.26 (Kalkot), 11, 188-220.

Tolkappiyam – Porul.60.


V. N. Datta, Sati: Widow Burning in India, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 1988.
Arvind Sharma,(Rd.), Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays, Motoilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, 1989.
Sakuntala Narasimhan, Sati: A Study of Widow Burning in India, Viking, New Delhi, 1990.

A. S. Atlekar, opt.cit., p.128.
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