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Kurunthokai 31 (குறுந்தொகை 31)

By Kumar Punithavel

Kumar Punithavel

Unlike in the homelands of other linguistics, the cradle of the Tamil speaking land is blessed with many learned men and women alike.

One such learned poetess is Aathimanthi (ஆதிமந்தி). She is believed to be the daughter of emperor Karikal Cholan (கரிகால் சோழன்) who built the gigantic dam across Cauveri River which is, to this day awed for its marvel.

This is a sonnet by Aathimanthi referring to her deep affection towards her lover Aattan Athi (ஆட்டன் அத்தி), described in her words to her trusted thozhi (friend) “my parents are looking for a ‘suitable’ partner for me but my lover is that suitable partner; having him in mind and becoming a wife to another is not acceptable ; hence please talk to my parents, on behalf of me, and stop this”

Aattan Athi is welknown in the royal circle for his valor and prowess, and for this he was an easy attraction for many women.

One day, when Aattan Athi was performing at the royal court, in the presence of the emperor, an unexpected flooding of the Cauveri river washed Aattan Aaathi away., however he was rescued at the down stream of the river, by a woman called Maruthi. Naturally, due to his good looks, Maruthi became attracted to Aattan Athi and developed liking for him.

Greatly grieving Aathimanthi, at the loss of her lover, walks along the river bank in search of Attan Athi and finally finds him at the care of Maruthi. Upon realizing the truth and the deep affection that Aathimanthi had towards Attan Athi, Maruthi sends him away with Aathimanthi. However, the void was loo large and unbearable for Maruthi and she commits suicide by jumping in the river.

This incident was also narrated in Akanaanooru (அகநானூறு) by verses no’s: 45,76,135,222,236,376. It is also mentioned in Chilapathikaaram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்), by Ilangkovadikal:

” —உரைசால் மன்னன் கரிகால் வளவன் மகள் வஞ்சிக் கோன் தனைப் புனல்கொளத் தான் புனலின் பின்சென்று ‘கல்நவில் தோளாயோ,’ என்னக் கடல்வந்துமுன்னிறுத்திக் காட்ட, அவனைத் தழீஇக் கொண்டு பொன்னங் கொடிபோலப் போதந்தாள்” என்று இளங்கோவடிகள் ஆதிமந்தியின் காதல் வலிமையைச் சிலப்பதிகாரத்தில் எடுத்துச் சொல்கிறார்.

Now, let us revisit Kurunthokai, chapter #31, like in many Sangam literature where poets narrate stories in the form of conversation between the protagonist and his / her best friend, usually between the woman and her companion (thozhi). As such, in this case, Athimanthi tells her thozhi: “it is not the case where her parents couldn’t find a suitable partner for her, rather, she herself is not suitable for any other man than her lover. The story, in this case, as was told: Athimanthi and her lover Attan Athi, walking along and enjoying the ‘Punal Vizhaa’ (புனல் விழா). Punal Vizhaaa was an annual celebration in Puhar, a costal city of Kavirippoom Pattinam to mark the event of the entry of River Cauveri reaching the shores. Suddenly, Attan Athi gone missing in the enormous crowd who were there. Aathimanthi was desperately looking for her lover everywhere and stops at a street dance performance where ‘Mallar’ (மள்ளர்), men from the farming community who were engaged in a dance form called ‘Thunangai’ ( துணங்கை). In this, the men folk celebrate with sex workers by closely hugging them.

மள்ளர் குழீஇய விழவினானும்,
மகளிர் தழீஇய துணங்கையானும்,
யாண்டும் காணேன் மாண்டக்கோனை,
யானும் ஓர் ஆடுகள மகளே, என் கைக்
கோடு ஈர் இலங்கு வளை நெகிழ்த்த 
பீடு கெழு குரிசலும் ஓர் ஆடுகள மகனே.

(Kurunthokai 31)

Meaning: Neither could I find my lover among the festivities attended by these farmer folk; nor could I find him among the women prostitutes who were tightly embracing their partners, where would I find my lover. I am a dancer my self whilst, the man who had made me to lose such weight, is also a dancer himself. Now, where would I find him?

‘Thunagai’ is a dance form where prostitutes (பரத்தையர்) tightly embracing their partners during the performance.

In those days a woman who loses weight is metaphorically described as her bangles (cut out from conches) become loose (இலங்கு வளை நெகிழ்த்த).