On Purananuru #299
(sorry for not being to use the Tamil font yet.)
This brief write-up is about an Old Tamil poem, puṟanāṉūṟu #299, the interpretation of which has confused many scholars of caṅkam literature.
The poem goes as follows:
parutti vēli-c cīṟūr maṉṉaṉ
uḻu-t-tatar uṇṭa ōy-naṭai-p puravi
kaṭal maṇṭu tōṇiyiṉ paṭai mukam pōḻa
neymmiti aruntiya koycuval eruttiṉ
taṇṇaṭai vēntaṉ tāruṭai-p puravi
aṇaṅkuṭai murukaṉ kōṭṭattu-k
kalam toṭā makaḷiriṉ ikaḻntu niṉṟavvē
The gist of the poem:
Two types of horses are used in a war. One type is from a simple small land and fed with husks of black-gram, charging the army like a/many raft(s) rushing into an ocean. The other type of horses are from a wealthy area, richly fed, and well groomed. They don't cut through the army unlike the horse(s) of the first type, but ignored and stood away like women who ignore and stand away from the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple.
The comparison of certain horses to certain women, especially the description of the women in this poem has intrigued many scholars.
Early commentators seem to have mulled over the poem and came up with their interpretations.
Fact: Certain horses stood away from the war just like some women standing away from the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple.
Basic question: Why did these women stand away from the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple?
Interpretators have come up with a strange conclusion!
Women in this poem are said to be standing away from the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple. Why? Ah, it must be because they were NOT ALLOWED to touch the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple. Why were they NOT ALLOWED to touch the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple? Ah, they were "impure,” "polluted,” "filled with dangerous sacred force,” and all kinds of malicious forces that "ought to be controlled,” and therefore they could not touch the vessel(s) in a Murukan temple! But why were these women "impure" and all that? Oh, because they were BLEEDING with MENSTRUAL blood!
[Personal note: Gross it may sound, but in general I see a lot of pleasure and curiosity in men for talking about women's body parts such as large breasts and odorous excretion like menstrual blood. I guess it’s because the male body is poorly dull and uninteresting! ;-)]
There are serious problems in the interpretations and understanding of this poem.
1. The words "ikaḻntu" and "niṉṟa" in the last line of the poem which describes the demeanor of certain horses are usually misunderstood in the interpretations.
2.a. The word "ikaḻntu" DOES NOT mean "fearing" or "frozen" as many people have interpreted it. One can refer to the usage of this word “ikaḻntu” in the poems and in the dictionaries.
2.b. The word "niṉṟa" DOES NOT mean "went away."
3. The phrase "kalam toṭā makaḷir" has been treated out of context. It SHOULD be taken along with the preceding "murukaṉ kōṭṭattu-k," so the word "kalam" is modified grammatically accurately by the phrase "murukaṉ kōṭṭattu."
3a. To claim that menstruating women (plural, that too in a standing position!) were present in a Murukan temple … sounds IDIOTIC, RIDICULOUS, and gross. Even if someone unexpectedly starts menstruating while she is in a temple, what is the reason for her to keep on standing there? Is she waiting for a limo-ride to go home?! A sane woman would move away from the Murukan shrine right away if she feels menstrual blood … well, you can understand what I’m trying to describe here.
3b. Women have a good sense of when they would menstruate and will not go to a temple and will not participate in any festivities if they are currently menstruating or would in a day or two. Thanks to our scholarly friend Hari Krishnan for understanding it and also pointing it out. I’m sure it must have been the case IF menstruation was a taboo in the time when the Cankam poems were written.
4. Why don’t intelligent scholars turn around 180 degrees and understand the phrase “kalam toTA makaLir” from a grammatical point of view as well?
4a. The phrase “kalam toTA makaLir” has a negative adjectival participle “toTA.” We can compare phrases like “vATa malli,” “pUvA vanci,” “punaiyA Oviyam,” “ezutA-k kiLavi,” and so on. These phrases describe a perennial state of the object described, not as tentative or as occurring once in a month or so.
5. When a woman (even someone post-menopausal) says that she cannot even "touch" certain foods like "puLiyOtarai," does it mean that she is "menstruating and impure" at that time so she cannot touch the “puLiyOtarai?” Or when an orthodox brahmin man and I say that we never touch meat, does it mean that we both are "impure" (== menstruating!!) so we are not allowed to touch the meat? We wear gloves when we clean the bathroom/toilet; does it mean that we are "menstruating and impure" and are not allowed to touch the things in the bathroom/toilet? Or, does it mean that the the stuff in the bathroom/toilet is unclean and we don't want to touch them?
6. We read in Cankam poetry about the “talaivi” despising the “veRiyATTu” during which a little lamb is killed and its blood is smeared on her forehead! Naturally, women must have been disgusted with the blood in the Murukan temple. So ... there was blood -- NOT from a women's body but from a poor little lamb!
6a. We read about goat-blood being offered to Murukan (as mentioned even in the Tirumurukarruppadai). So, there could have been blood in the vessel(s) that women despised and stood away from those vessels.