Jul 25, 2011


[Valmiki Sarga 4-10, Kamban Padalam 1-4 ]


They knew people like me would hear or read this, I thought as soon as I read the words "anasuuyataa shrotavyam. [1.5.4]" 'Listen, park your trivial objections and read it without finding unnecessary faults,' Valmiki seems to be telling me personally.  Nevertheless,  skeptic is my middle name so that demand is unlikely to daunt me. 

The description of the city of Ayodhya amazes me, it reads almost like a modern metropolis - skyscrapers [7 stories tall, how did they build it?], teeming with people, no space wasted,  hundreds of square miles in area [possibly larger than Bangalore going by the 10 yojana by 3 yojana measurement].  I say almost because unlike the modern metropolis Ayodhya also has abundant water. The streets were sprinkled with water and flowers. I wonder why, was it to keep the dust down and as a warm welcome?

The city has moats and soldiers guarding it with modern weapons, so clearly they were sharp on their defense. The virtues of the horses and the elephants [not much mention of cows!] in the city is extolled. The horses are bred from countries like Kaambhoja [which Sanjay tells me is Kabul], Baahlika etc.

The description of the people made me feel that it was an extremely boring country to live in. Everyone is contented, virtuous, scholarly,  they all seem to enjoy good health and are all uniformly happy. It is like Ramarajya ahead of time. I was a little put out by the use of the word Mahatma for Dasharatha somehow feeling he didn't deserve it.

One part that struck both Sanjay and me was the notes on grooming - people of Ayodhya did not go without earrings, turbans and - get this - did not go unscented or unadorned with sandal paste.
na akuNDalii na amukuTii na asragvii na alpabhogavaan |
na amR^iSTo na aliptaa~Ngo na asugandhaH cha vidyate [1.6.10]

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife would be lost on the citizens of Ayodhya for there was no one para daara ratoH naraH. [1.7.15]

Sanjay was quite impressed with the fact that Dasharatha could charm the urban dwellers as well as the rural population 'paura janapada priyaH'. But, he was not impressed with the 'naastiko na'. As part of listing all the sins that the good citizens of Ayodhya didn't commit, the sage says there weren't any atheists. Sanjay felt that was surprising since he didn't think atheism was necessarily a sin according to Hindu traditions.

With such citizens, needless to say the ministers are equally impressive - there seems to be two types of ministers some holding the posts due to heredity, others not. We see the same pattern in the descriptions of the ministers - they are not just smart, they are also polite and clean [suchiinaam ].  Of course the clincher was that the Ministers efficiency and relationships were subject to some sort of a vigilance. kushalaa vyvahaareshhu sauhR^ideshhu pariikshitaaH [1.7.10]

There is a line with regards to taxation that we both debated about. brahma kShatram ahi.msantaH te kosham samapuurayan [1.7.13] Does that mean that the Brahmins and Kshatriyas were exempt from taxes or that they had a better tax bracket? I am inclined to think the former whereas Sanjay thinks its the latter.

As we move forward, we get a glimpse of Dasharatha's state of mind. mama laalasya maanasya [1.8.8]. He is perturbed about not having a son, all is not clearly well as we had been led to believe in the earlier chapter. It is odd he declares one fine morning, that the ashwamedha yaga is the solution for his predicament. Ashwameda yaga requires considerable resources from the government and I suppose it is after all for the future king so is legitimate. Yet, Dasharatha comes up with the idea seemingly out of thin air and asks for the courtier's advise and not vice-versa. Naturally with great adoration they agree it is the right thing to do. I wonder if it is somehow connected to the whole enthusiastic description of the horses earlier.  He even mentions it to his wives much later, and just tells them to follow. Sanjay thought this was a righteous thing to do, putting kingdom before family, but I was inclined to think the whole episode was high handed.

The story of Rishyashringa that I have heard seemed more adult rated compared to what I read in the Ramayana. The courtesans didn't entice him by dancing away to an item number, nor did Rishyashringa seem to get thoroughly intoxicated. Its like a bare outline story of Rishyashringa is given and the rest is either assumed to be known to the listener or is left to the listener's imagination.

Can't wait for the birth of our hero.

Kamaban :

Kamaban is a poet - yes this is a retelling of a great epic and he does so with the humility of a very devout man but what comes through most strikingly is that he is first and foremost a brilliant poet. It shines through as  I begin to read the first few verses.

Kamban's epic rendering starts with the river, it makes sense after all civilization originated on the great river banks. The wandering clouds, the rains, the origin of the river in the himalayas, its course towards Ayodhya are sung in glorious details full of such delightful and unexpected similes.  Clouds white like the color of the holy ash smeared lord became dark like the color of the lord who has Lakshmi in his heart - Neeranintha kadavunirathavan, thirumangaithan veeraninthavan meni [1.1.2] -, River is filled with various objects - flowers, wood and minerals colorful like a rainbow he says. He compares the river chanelling to tributaries to family lineages and many more such beautiful similes abound.

The comparison of the river to a mother's breast was poetic but I had to sit up at the comparison of the river to a whore. Verse [1.1.6] - 'With her fleeting touch of the body from forehead to toe she carries off all the riches,' he compares thus the river flood falling off the mountain top.

Kamban outlines his secular views with a beautiful verse - like the same water sometime manifesting as a river, as a lake, as a pond religions worship the same Almighty in different forms.

Kallidaippiranthu ponthu kadalidaikalantha  neetham
ellaiyin marakalalumiyamparum poruleethenna
thollaiyilondreyagi thuraithorum parantha shoolchi
palperunchamayam sollum porulum porparanthathandre. [1.1.19]

Kamban seems to be so interested in describing the beauty of the country and then the city that he spends more than a hundred verses. Here too the country seems to be a great place to live and Kamban paints pictures of prosperity [Flowers and bees and cane filled fields, buffaloes lounging by the ponds]. Kamban's descriptions deals with aesthetics and the picturesque. What caught my attention was the presence of women through out his poems. He describes their beauty and their talents  tirelessly. This Ayodhya and possibly the chola kingdom it was modelled after is quite modern.

The citizens spend their time in debates, music, social gaming [whole verse on cock-fights!] and their love life also seems to occupy a lot of their time. Women definitely are learned - yay! - Selvamum Kalviyum poothalal.

The city description is equally elaborate with the fort walls, the moat and even the woods beyond the moat described in lyrical terms.

Other eye-catchers in the trove of verses include
Geographical consciousness - Kamban describes the effects of the river on the five types of land in great details [Forest, Mountainous, Farm, Desert, Seashore] , and the agriculture and the crops and the types of crops [grains, fruit trees, lentils, tubers, greens]
Describing the noises/smoke of the country and the city  [1.2.41, 1.3.41, 1.2.57]

Kamban almost tongue in cheek says things were so great that people didn't realize how great things were.

Vanmaillai or Varumaiinamaiyal
Thinmaiyillai Nerserunarinmaiyal
Unmaillai Poiyurailamaiyal
Onmayillai palkelviyongalal [1.2.53]

The fourth padalam praises Dasharath in the similar levels though not in similar lengths as that of Valmiki. The approach here is to elaborately set the description of the country and the city and conclude by the ability and valor of the king.

July 25, 2011