Sangam Lit

Sangam Lit

Puranaanooru 91 – The gift of long life

January 30, 2023

In this episode, we perceive an act of benevolence, as depicted in Sangam Literary work, Puranaanooru 91, penned about the Velir king Athiyamaan Nedumaan Anji by the renowned poet Avvaiyaar. Set in the category of ‘Paadaan Thinai’ or ‘King’s praise’, the verse celebrates a thoughtful gesture by this king.

வலம் படு வாய்வாள் ஏந்தி, ஒன்னார்
களம் படக் கடந்த கழல் தொடித் தடக் கை,
ஆர் கலி நறவின், அதியர் கோமான்!
போர் அடு திருவின் பொலந் தார் அஞ்சி!

பால் புரை பிறை நுதல் பொலிந்த சென்னி
நீலமணி மிடற்று ஒருவன் போல
மன்னுக பெரும! நீயே, தொல் நிலைப்
பெரு மலை விடரகத்து அரு மிசைக் கொண்ட
சிறியிலை நெல்லித் தீம் கனி குறியாது,
ஆதல் நின் அகத்து அடக்கி,
சாதல் நீங்க, எமக்கு ஈத்தனையே!

A song of much significance about this poet and her patron. The poet’s words can be translated as follows:

“Bearing your undefeated sword, assured of victory, your strong, armlet-clad arms won over opponents in the battlefield and relished the uproar-causing toddy, O leader of the Athiyars, O Anji, who wears the wealth of battle victory around his neck as a golden garland!

Like the great one, who has a head adorned by a milk-like, crescent moon and a neck in the hue of blue sapphires, may you live, O lord! Reaching the inaccessible cleft on that ancient mountain with much difficulty, you gathered that small-leaved gooseberry tree’s fruit. But, without thinking of keeping the benefits of that fruit as a secret in your heart, to slay death in my path, you gave that to me!”

Let’s explore the words herein. The poet starts by remarking about the unfailing and sturdy arms of the king, clad with ornaments, deft at defeating enemies and savouring a strong cup of toddy. Arms, expert at work and pleasure, sounds like! She praises the appearance and wealth of the king, remarking how he wears a golden garland around his neck, speaking of his success at war. After that description, the poet renders a blessing unto the king saying that he should live like God Shiva, who wears a white, crescent moon on his shining head and has a neck in the colour of sapphires. Explaining it’s not just a random blessing, the poet details how the king, with much effort secured a hard-to-reach gooseberry fruit from the edge of a mountain and instead of eating that himself, rendered it unto this poet, so as to ensure a deathless life for her!

From this rendition, we can infer the belief in Sangam people about gooseberries in general and that particular, rare gooseberry as a food that could remove death from the life of the one who eats it. While the elixir of never-ending life is yet to be discovered, science tells us that a gooseberry is one of those superfoods that come close in qualitative ways. For instance, the Indian gooseberry is well-known for its anti-aging properties, slowing down the body’s inevitable aging cycle. So, in a way, it’s not far-fetched for these ancient people to have considered that a gooseberry could keep death at bay. Moving from the fruit to the act, we see how that king, knowing fully well the excellent benefits of consuming that rare fruit, decides not to do that, but instead, offers the same to this poet. In that, there is a deep selflessness and goodwill towards another human! Had the king thought, ‘I want to prolong my life’ and ate the fruit himself, maybe he would have lived a few more years but here, by rendering unto his friend, the poet Avvaiyaar, he has ensured that he lives without an end through these undying words about his kindness and generosity that echo across time and space forever!