Sangam Lit

Sangam Lit

Puranaanooru 84 – Like a feared path

January 17, 2023

In this episode, we perceive the distress of unrequited feelings, as portrayed in Sangam Literary work, Puranaanooru 84, penned about the Chozha King Poravai Kopperunarkilli by the poet Nakkannaiyaar. The verse is set in the category of ‘Kaikilai’ or ‘Inappropriate love’ and talks about the state of soldiers who dare to oppose the king in battle.

என்னை, புற்கை உண்டும் பெருந் தோளன்னே;
யாமே, புறஞ் சிறை இருந்தும் பொன் அன்னம்மே;
போர் எதிர்ந்து என்னை போர்க் களம் புகினே,
கல்லென் பேர் ஊர் விழவுடை ஆங்கண்,
ஏமுற்றுக் கழிந்த மள்ளர்க்கு
உமணர் வெரூஉம் துறையன்னன்னே.

Another song which presents a portrait of this Chozha king as seen in the eyes of this female poet. The poet’s words can be translated as follows:

“Even if my lord eats but gruel, he is one with mighty shoulders; As for me, as I stay on the other side of his place, miserably, I have become gold in hue. In acceptance of challenges thrown to him, if my lord enters the battlefield, to opposing soldiers, who spent their time in glee, amidst the festivities of the uproarious, great town, it would be as fearsome as the path that salt merchants fear to tread.”

Let’s explore the thought in these few lines. The poet starts by saying how even though the king eats but gruel, he is mighty indeed. A moment to pause and consider why this king is eating a poor man’s food! Could it be because of the tussle with his father ‘Thithan’? Without waiting to explain the reason why, the poet proceeds to now give an account of her own pitiable state. She calls herself as taking on a ‘golden hue’. Why pitiable? Isn’t this golden complexion something that most women seem to aspire for, as evidenced by that stress of fairness in the cosmetic industry? Not these Sangam women, for sure!  For them, the height of beauty was to be dark-hued without the pale shade of pallor upon their skin. 

From her state of pining, the poet moves to what an imposing sight this king would present when he enters the battlefield. To etch that vividly, she talks about how soldiers from the opponent side, who might have been boasting about their strength and skill, once the king enters the arena, will feel the same kind of fear that salt merchants feel on certain dark and strange paths in their travel.

The significance of this simile will be evident from our understanding that salt merchants had to travel to every nook and corner as part of their livelihood, and they did not have the luxury of setting up base anywhere. And so, when these people, who are forever searching for new towns to sell their wares are afraid of certain paths, then those must indeed be immensely fearsome. And, that’s the feeling the king presents to his opponents, concludes this smitten poet. Thanks to this blend of a song of inner and outer life, we gather a deep insight about the occupation of being a salt merchant in the Sangam era!