Sangam Lit

Sangam Lit

Puranaanooru 226 – Stance of Death

September 18, 2023

In this episode, we learn of the king’s qualities through a unique portrait, as depicted in Sangam Literary work, Puranaanooru 226, penned about the Chozha King Kulamuttrathu Thunjiya Killivalavan by the poet Maarokkathu Nappasalaiyaar. Set in the category of ‘Pothuviyal Thinai’ or ‘Common themes’, the verse echoes the poet’s dejection on hearing about this king’s demise.

செற்றன்று ஆயினும், செயிர்த்தன்று ஆயினும்,
உற்றன்று ஆயினும், உய்வு இன்று மாதோ;
பாடுநர் போலக் கைதொழுது ஏத்தி,
இரந்தன்றாகல் வேண்டும் பொலந் தார்
மண்டு அமர் கடக்கும் தானைத்
திண் தேர் வளவற் கொண்ட கூற்றே.

A tiny song with a powerful core! This talented female poet of Sangam times says these words in remembrance of this Chozha king:

“If it had come with enmity or with fury or tried to capture him by force, there would have been no way forward! It must have arrived with raised and folded hands, akin to a singer, begging for the grace of the king wearing golden garlands, wielding sturdy chariots and owning a fierce army that conquer battlefields many. That’s the only reason why Death has taken away our king!”

Time to delve into the nuances. The poet begins by talking about the attitude of Death when approaching this king. She says that if at all Death had come before the king either in prideful enmity or raging fury and tried to take the king in a physical combat, then it would have surely failed. So, she calculates that there is only one possible way for Death to have come near this rich and powerful king, and that was, for Death to have come humbly with folded hands, like a singer or bard, praising the king and seeking a gift from the ruler. The poet concludes that since Death haD succeeded in its mission, it must have sought the gift of life from this king!

All we hear are a few words and within this, the poet brings out the great courage of this king by pointing out how formidable he was to his enemies. Not even Death could have won him if it had approached him as an enemy, the poet implies. Next, she also throws light on the immense generosity of this king by implying that if Death had come as a supplicant and sought his life, then the king would not have refused Death’s wish! The most fascinating aspect in this little verse to me is the way the poet has imagined life at the moment of death. The usual belief is that every single being is helpless when facing death and there is no way out of that situation. Here, by imagining that the king had the power to render his life or not, the poet glorifies the king’s strength, and also, leaves us with a more empowering impression about that mysterious, last sleep!