A Warrior’s Lamentation | Ainkurunooru #448

By: Kumar Punithavel

Kumar Punithavel

From time immemorial, the mankind, or personkind, to be politically correct, it has been an accepted norm, that the duty of man is to protect and provide, and that of the woman is to care and nurture. In the Sangam literature, there have been numerous references on women, left behind by their men for short and long trips away, lamenting with loneliness. However, there was hardly any mention of the status of those men who were also suffering without their womenfolk by their sides in faraway lands, be it a war front or a trading port, where they were missioned to go. This poem, #448 in Ainkurunooru, differs on this concept.

During the Sangam era, which goes as far back as about 600 years Before Common Era, there were many Tamil poems composed and documented. The anthology of poems titled Ainkurunooru has five hundred short poems in total (Ain=Five, Kuru=Small, Nooru=One Hundred). Of these five hundred poems, each terrain of the Tamil land, namely, Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal and Paalai. For those who are not familiar with this classification, a terrain of mountainous landscape was called Kurinji; a terrain of forests and its surroundings were called Mullai, a terrain of farms and grazing fieldswerecalled Marutham, a terrain adjoining sea shore was called Neithal and  the terrain consists of baron land was called Paalai.  The poem # 448 of this anthology was composed by a poet called Peyanar and the poem describes an event which took place in a mullai landscape. The poet Peyanar was known to have contributed 105 poems to the entire collection of Sangam literature. The gender of this poet was not clearly established, however, many assume it was that of a woman. 

Readers may remember that the entire Tamil country consisted of three nations which were ruled mainly by three different dynasties, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas. These kingdoms were further franchised to Kurunila Mannar, the chieftains. In those days there were no shortage of reasons for wars and battles, hence there were plenty of men with valor to move around.       

Most poems of this nature were penned to praise the king of the land, of the brave men who set out to battlefields, or of the womenfolk who were left behind during these episodes. This particular song is no exception. The poet Peyanar describes a scene at the war front as lamentations of the hero.

தழங்குரல் முரசம் காலை இயம்ப,

கடுஞ் சின வேந்தன் தொழில் எதிர்ந்தனனே;

மெல் அவல் மருங்கின் முல்லை பூப்பப்

பொங்கு பெயல் கனை துளி கார் எதிர்ந்தன்றே;
அம் சில் ஓதியை உள்ளுதொறும்,

துஞ்சாது அலமரல் நாம் எதிர்ந்தனமே.        

பேயனார், ஐங்குறுநூறு  448


The morning war drums reverberating,

The enraged king took on to him to fight,        

The delicate terrain with Jasmine blooms,

Abundant drizzling drops reminds the rainy season is begun,

As memories of that lovely hair comes,

Sleeplessly disturbed I face the reality.                    

Peyanar, Ainkurunooru poem # 448        

As the name implies, Mullai is a native flower to the mullai terrain, and is now commonly called jasmine. The fragrance of mullai emanating from the surrounding fields where the hero was camping the previous night reminds him of his woman he left behind. Tamil women in those days, after having bath, would attach garlands made of mullai, to their long dark hairs. The white flower, with its contrasting colour would be a perfect fit to their dark hairs. The hero in this case was constantly reminded of his woman.

It was customary in those days for the kings at war to predetermine the place of war, away from human settlements, the time and it to be fought. Hence warriors who leave their womenfolk promise them a timeframe for their intended return. As in this case, the hero had already promised to return before the monsoon started. However, his fearless king pursued further and the hope of the war ending as planned diminished. The emergence of mullai fragrance had reminded him that the monsoon had already started. Leaving the war front is construed as treason and a march to the gallows is guaranteed.

The poet beautifully captures the lamentations that the hero goes through, metaphorically relating to mullai, on one hand it brings memories of his woman and it also reminds him that the monsoon has arrived and he was already in breach of the promise he had made to her. With sleepless nights with the memory of his woman, he decides to stay and conclude the war.

(This article was first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Monsoon Journal)