Sep 23, 2011


[Valmiki Sarga 24-30, Kamban Tatakai padalam, Velvi padalam 1-5]


The adventure begins - it is part field trip, part trek, part on the job training as Vishwamitra take the young princes into the forest describing the origins of Sarayu. The geography and science deserves a separate post. Verse 15 of 24 for example lists a number of trees - other than Bilva I didn't know any - shame! Vishwamitra as part of explaining the origins of the forest starts with Vritra - Indra seems to be unjustly stained after the killing of the demon Vritra just because he was a brahman.

puraa vR^itra vadhe raama malena samabhiplutam || 1-24-18
kSudhaa caiva sahasraakSam brahma hatyaa sam aavishat |

Indra was never a favorite character so I didn't feel particularly bad, but I did to read what happened to Tataka.

Tataka is described as an epitome of beauty - ruupa yauvana shaliniim [1.25.18] that was before she tried to take revenge for the death of her husband. One could even argue that she was acting in self defence to protect her son Mareecha. I felt it was thoroughly unfair and chauvinistic of Agastya to not only curse her son to become a demon, but also make her look ugly. Why should she be deformed I could not understand - he seems to be responsible for creating a demon when there really was none.

bhakshaartham jaata sa.mrambhaa garjantI saa abhyadhaavata |
aapatantIm tu taam dR^iSTwaa agastyo bhagavaan R^iSiH || 
raakSasatvam bhajasva iti maariicam vyaajahaara saH | [1.25.11]

Rama's puzzled question of why they were all so terrified of a Yakshi remains, though Vishwamitra goes to some length in justifying to Rama that it was alright to kill a woman under the certain circumstances.

It is not revealed whether Rama thought it was justified. The young boy responds quite politely that he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his father's words. A promise is a promise and if I have to do this deed of killing a female I will do so, he seems to say. With hindsight, I thought this was a significant episode. Rama is definitely conscious of his duty and in a case of conflict he seems to fall back to his duty rather than pursuing his dilemma.

so.aham piturvacaH shrutvaa shaasanaad brahma vaadinaH |
kariSyaami na sa.ndehaH taaTakaa vadham uttamam || [1.26.4]

And then in a wonderful gesture that signifies his fair mindedness, he makes a thunderous noise from his bowstring warning Tataka.

evam uktvaa dhanurmadhye badhvaa muSTim arindamaH |
jyaa ghoSam akarot tiivram dishaH shabdena naadayan || [1.26.6]

Tataka puts up a fight, Rama still reluctant hurts her, mutilates her but does not seem to bring himself to kill her. And with a final push in the form of Vishwamitra's advise he kills her. The episode seemed like a great test of character - Rama thinks for himself, he questions, he even at the heat of the battle is brave and tries still not to do what he perceives as wrong. Yet, when he sees her might, when he realizes her capacity to destroy the sages, he does not shun away from killing her. Ability to question and an ability to change.

Lakshmana I know from my knowledge of Ramayana is going to make a habit of cutting off women's noses and ears. Though to be fair Rama seems to have put the idea in his head. 
saumitriH akarot krodhaat hR^ita karNaagra naasikaam || [1.26.18]

Now that Rama has done his job, he is rewarded with weaponry  - a long list of missiles litter the verses. Sanjay said - 'poor chap, Lakshmana, he didn't get any'. We scoured the text but couldn't find anything that implies Lakshmana too gained some weapons.

Again Rama shows intelligence and asks for knowledge on the destruction of the missiles. This was quite interesting. Was Rama just asking knowledge of defense ? That is, is he trying to improve his chances by knowing how to protect himself against an enemy who might employ similar astras? Or, even better, is he asking for knowledge to destroy an astra after deploying. If that is so, it is an uncommonly insightful question coming from a twelve year old boy.

gR^ihiita astro asmi bhagavan duraadharSaH suraiH api |
astraaNaam tu aham icChaami sa.mhaaram munipu.mgava || [1.28.2]

Sanjay was particularly impressed with the hymns Rama is taught. Not for the hymns themselves, but for tapasaa sa.mbhR^ite ca ete bahu ruupe bhaviSyataH | [1.28.19] -if you practice, if you nurture then no one can equal you.

The Sarga on Vamana   brought forth the same question I have always had about Mahabali, what evil deeds did he really do? I learnt to my surprise that he was the grandson of Prahalada. Same family bringing about two avatars!


With a brief description of the grove they spend the night in, Kamban moves the scene to a desert landscape.   Talk of atmosphere! I felt the heat as I read the verses.  [1.7.5 - 1.7.10]

Venile allthor ruthu verinmai - no season other than summer,
karuthin vem ullamum kaanin vem nayanamum - to think of this desert your heart aches, to see your eyes burn,
manamamani ilanthu anjinar nenju pol and many more gems. The poet even describes a mirage.

One point I was curious about was the lack of mention of sand. Palai does not necessarily translate to desert and it possibly in this context means the dry harsh landscape that one can see even today during the summer months in south Tamilnadu.  Tatakai in this version is as beautiful as Mahalakshmi - poomida mayilinai poruvum porpodum [1.7.25]- tragic really that here too Agastya curses Tatakai and her children to become demons.  Tatakai does seem to have become a complete demoness in further descriptions a few more notches compared to the earlier version. Perhaps Kamban too felt there wasn't a strong justification in the original version?

1.7.45 is very visual. Rama asked shaking his head, 'so where does she live?' I wonder if the shaking head is equivalent to modern shrugging.

Tatakai is more confrontational, she arrives in fiery form and taunts them. She asks if they came to provide her with sweet meat. She initiates the battle so to speak. Despite her actions, despite Vishwamitra's views, Rama hesitates because she is a woman. Vishwamitra is more convincing. Ikkodiyalai mathendrennuvatho?  He goes to say who is as masculine as her. Lists all her evil deeds.  eeril nallaram parthisaithen [1.7.65] 'I have weighed the pros and cons and am not saying this lightly'

Rama's response is intriguing and to some extent indicative of the kind of man Rama is or will be.

Aiyanangathu kettranallaavum
eithinaalathu seigavendrevinal
meiya ninnurai vethamenakkondu
seigai yandro varancheu marendran. [1.7.66]

'Even if it weren't fair, whatever you command I would execute' Rama is supremely conscious of his duty, of why his father had sent him with Vishwamitra. He has his views, he does not state he agrees with Vishwamitra, the poet doesn't explain if he was convinced. But to me the response clearly indicates he isn't. It is a ' a man's got to do what a man's got to do' response.

Kamban repeats the word "thee" in . Theeyanai, theembunal, theeyathan, theeyodu.. [1.7.67]somehow reinforcing the evil with the usage.

Kamban sparkles in the description of the battle between Rama and Tatakai. He knows the drama of the scene - Rama's first battle and his first victory against the demons.

Valiyai thottathum kuniththaum kandilar, 
soola matrana thundangal kandanar. [1.7.69]

They didn't see him touch or set the arrow all they saw was Tatakai's weapon broken. How spectacularly fast and efficient Rama is.

Sollokkum kadivegachuducharan kariya chemmal
Allokku niruthinanmel viduthalum vayirakundra
kallorkku nenjil thanga thapparng kazhandru kallap
pullarkku nallor sonna porulena poyitrandre. [1.7.71]

How arrow was faster than a word - essentially faster than the speed of sound- Mach 1. I especially liked the 'Kariya chemmal' The dark lord.  Dark is the color of the hero, the supreme lord. The weapon pierced her and went past her like the way a good advise goes past a fool.

Tatakai dies staining the ground with her blood, like an incongruous evening sky in land and everyone rejoices.

Rama gets his weapons. The weapons rejoice that they are now Rama's. 1.8.2 has a line describing the underlying philosophy of karma that Kamban subscribes to.

Theriya manaththan seitha nalvinai payangalellam 
mariya pirapir thedi varuva pol vantha vandre 

Like the way the fruits of good deeds from one birth automatically come to you the next, the weapons reached Rama.  Weapons are anthropomorphic.

The young princes move on to more adventures.

September 23, 2011