restricted access CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Mudalvan, Murukan, Māl: The Great Gods of the Tamils
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248 CH APTER EIGHTEEN Mudalvan, Murukan, Māl: The Great Gods of the Tamils A, as its first of letters, every speech maintains; The Primal Deity is First through all the world’s domains. —Tirukkuraḷ I, 1, 1 The Sanskritization of Indian culture that took place gradually with the spread of Vedic religion from Northwestern India, brought about a certain measure of uniformity and universality of ritual and belief. As the Vedic caturvarṇa organization of society took hold of the entire country, so the celebration of Vedic yajñas became a status symbol all over India from North to South. The systematic expansion of Āryavārta through missionaries like Agastya, resulted in the all-India acceptance and use of Sanskrit for religious purposes.1 Legend associates Ṛṣi Agastya with Śiva. The people from the south, who had gone in great numbers to witness Śiva’s marriage to Pārvāti, asked for a sage. Śiva chose Agastya. He was very short but immensely powerful: in a fit of rage he once drank the whole ocean. Agastya, keen on familiarizing himself with his mission country asked Śiva to initiate him into Tamil language and literature. He settled in the Podhukai hills, in today’s Tinnelvelly district, with his family and a group of northern farmers. Agastya is supposed to have written the Āgastyam, a large grammatical work on Tamil, which is lost except for a few fragments. Some—if not most—of the greatest works on Hindu philosophy and religion (such as Śaṅkara’s, Rāmānuja’s, and Madhva’s numerous treatises on Vedānta, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and many others) originated in the South. Since Śaṅkara established the four strategic maṭhas in the four corners of India, South Indian priests serve in several of the temples of the Kedarnāth complex in the Himalayas. As F. W. Clothey observed: “At its apex between the eighth and fifteenth centuries, the Tamil region was the major center MUDA LVA N, MURUK A N, M Ā L 249 of Hindu civilization, and indeed, one of the major centers of civilization in the world.”2 It was assumed by scholars for long that in the religion of the epics and Purāṇas the indigenous traditions and religions mingled and mixed with the Vedic-Aryan and that in the major heroes and heroines of these works non-Aryan deities—often with Sanskritized names—found entry into Hindu orthodoxy. In the northern and central parts of India, where people speak Sanskritderived languages, it is difficult to identify pre-Sanskritic traditions and cults, except on a local level. In the South however, where Dravidian languages prevail, and with the renewed pride especially of Tamils in their distinct cultural heritage, an impressive case can be stated for the non-Aryan and preSanskritic religions of the area. Some Tamils have gone so far as to claim, for Tamil culture, superiority in age and sophistication over Sanskrit culture. Some of the literary documents connected with the so-called Saṅgam period have been assigned dates that would place them into pre-history.3 While much research is still necessary to fix dates and establish a chronology of South Indian literary documents , it does seem certain that there was not only an Aryanization and Sanskritization of South-India but also a reverse penetration of Aryan Vedic religion and culture by Dravidian elements. Nirad Chaudhuri, who claims that “the South Indian languages are Dravidian only in syntax and the workaday part of the vocabulary,” that “all the words which embody cultural notions are Sanskritic,” and that “there is not a single element in the culture of any civilized group in South India which is not Aryan Brahmanic,”4 has been refuted by the works of serious scholars such as T. Burrow, who points out that the Ṛgveda already contains at least twenty words of Dravidian origin and that later classical Sanskrit too borrowed a great many words from Tamil sources.5 Tamiḷnāḍu, the country of the Tamils, comprised in former times a much larger area than it does today and included roughly the areas where today Dravidian languages are prevalent: besides the present state of Tamiḷnāḍu, also the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karṇātaka, and Kerala, that is, the countries where Telugu, Tulu, and Malayalam are spoken.6 The Tamil country was continuously inhabited for at least three hundred thousand years and possesses some of the earliest remnants of late Stone Age...