February 2007

Kaalamegam was a true poet, in the sense, he amassed wealth by singing songs in praise of Kings and Gods at all the places he went. But he was so merciful and had a helpful tendency that he would give away that money to the needy and poor and go off other places. This behaviour of the poets of the Sangam age is also one of the reasons, for so many songs in Tamil Literature. Mostly poets would sing songs in praise of kings. Those kings used were lavishly generous that they gave lots of money, gold and other prizes to those poets and would even provide them a job in their kingdom. The poets getting all those possessions would not keep it to themselves, instead they would give those to the needy neighbours and relatives to help them get out of their misery, problems etc. And the interesting part is that they would not worry if they poets give away all their amassed wealth and they themselves are lead into misery. They had the confidence in their knowledge and poetic abilities and of course the kings’ generosity, so they could sing a few songs in praise and earn the money. Kaalamegam was one such poet, who would earn a lot of wealth and give it away to the poor and needy. He led a simple life and would stay at any place, be it a small hut or a temple mandapam or even Sathiram.

So what has this to do with Kaalamegam’s tussle with Kambar. Well, it was just to mention that characteristics of the the poets. Kambar too was a poet with a merciful and helping heart, but he held high positions in the kingdom, to being the head of the poets and being advisor to the then kings. He was held in high respect.

Though some literary and historical people say that Kaalamegam and Kambar belong to different periods and Kambar lived a century before Kaalamegam. Some say that they were contemporaries. In those days, casteism was prevalent and there was a class difference between higher and lower castes. Not only in those days, even today, it is much like a cold war, where people organise communal societies for their welfare. Let us not aberrate from what we were to see. There is even an argument about the caste of Kambar, some say that he belonged to a higher class and some say that he belong to a lower caste called Valaiyar. Well, lets not bring any caste disputes or arguments here. And let us not probe into the truths about this. We shall just see the interesting legend that has stayed for years since Kambar’s and Kaalamegam’s time. And this will not cause any harm to the respects that both the poets have earned in history.

Well, the legend goes like this. Once upon a time, Kaalamegam was taking rest in the temple mandapam. By then, Kambar with all his servants bearing him in a palanquin, went on a rounds around the city. Kambar was accompanied by his wife. When he reached the temple. He saw Kaalamegam sitting in the temple mandapam. Judging by the appearance of the Kaalamegam, Kambar’s pride knew no bounds. He holding a higher position in the kingdom and Kaalamegam being so simple and not so popular as him increased his pride. So he just looked slyly at Kaalamegam as if he was denigrating him. Kaalamegam provoked by this act, stayed cool and just started to sing and he sang the first line of the song

“Kambaa! Kalaignaa!”

meaning, Oh Kambaa, a great poet and artist. But Kambar knew that Kaalamegam was provoked and he is intending to insult him. Asked his palanquin bearers to stop immediately. Came rushing to Kaalamegam, gave a bag of gold that he had with him, praised him and went silently. The others just considered this act of Kambar’s as being generous and Kambar having a great respect for a fellow poet. But only Kaalamegam and Kambar knew its inner meaning.

Now Kaalamegam on seeing Kambar coming to him, stopped singing after the first line and he too paid the same respect that Kambar gave him in front of the other people. The people around thought that, though Kaalamegam being a great poet, was humble enough to praise a contemporary poet in front of the people. So both the poets, maintained their political correctness and decency, but the insults we known only to them .

Kambar got back onto the palanquin, and his wife asked in curiosity, why Kambar gave the bag of gold for Kaalamegam who just sang a simple one liner about Kambar. Now Kambar explained that had he not rushed to give the bag of gold. Kaalamegam would have sung the next line which would have been a great insult to him, because he is from a lower caste. The song would have been like this

“Kambaa! Kalaigna!
Vambaa! Valai Payalae!”

meaning, Oh Kambaa, a great poet and artist. Poking fun at me? You Valaiyar (low caste) kid! Had Kambar left Kaalamegam to sing the next line, it would have insulted him for the position he was holding in the kingdom. The point of the legend is not about the casteism, but the shrewdness and meticulousness of the both the poets that they maintained the decency of each other in a public place.

There is also another instance where Kaalamegam criticised Kambar on the use of the language his songs. The song goes like this

“Naaraayananai Narraayanan Endrae Kamban

Oraamal Sonna Urudhiyaal Naer Aaga

Vaar Endral Varr Enbaen Vaal Endral Vall Enbaen

Naar Endral Narr Enbaen Naan”

meaning, for the reason that the Kamban wrote Naaraayanan as Narraayanan, I will make the mistake as he did by uttering the word Vaar as Varr, Vaal as Vall and Naar as Narr.

Why Kaalamegam said this, is because he felt offended when Kambar mentioned as Lord Vishnu as Narraayanan meaning residing in a human (Kambar referred Lord Rama in this context, however) but Naaraayanan means the one who resides in a water body. Kaalamegam felt that Kambar should not have used the word Naaraayanan to mean it differently altogether. So Kaalamegam instead of criticising Kambar directly, he said that Kambar being a great poet, pertaining to the usage of the words, he used. Kaalamegam too would follow, Kambar’s track. This not only criticised Kambar but also in a decent manner.

Poets in those days were shrewd enough to understand these indirect and hidden criticisms, so were Kambar and Kaalamegam. Though they had tussles between them, they are poetic stalwarts history has ever seen. They had respect for each other and stand out as great poets of all times.

More to come, until then…


Kaalamegam really is a great poet, as we saw in the previous post his eloquence is unmatched. Now let us see the meaning of the last song in the previous post.

“ThaadheeThoo ThoTheedhu Thaththaithoo Thodhaadhu
ThaadheeThoo Thothitha Thoodhadhae Thaadhotha
Thuthithath Thaadhae Thudhithuthae ThothTheedhu
Thithitha Thodhith Thithi”

As usual, lets rephrase this song to have a better understanding

“Thaadhee Thoodho Theedhu Thaththai Thoodhu Odhadhu
Thaadhee Thoodhu Othiththa Thoodhu Adhae Thaadhu Oththa
Thuthi Thathaadhae Thudhithu Thae Thothu Theedhu
Thithitha Thodhi Thithi”

meaning, the servant girls will not act as messengers correctly and they will not convey the message correctly to her lover. The parrot that she has as a pet will go as a messenger for her, though it talks beautifully. Even if the servant girls take the message, it will get days for the message to be conveyed back and forth, so it will not be useful. The skin is becoming pale as a lesions start to appear and spread all over her body as the nectar from flowers would spread if poured. Worshipping the Gods to have a peace of mind is not going to help either. So just utter my man’s name to make me feel better.

Thaadhee – Servant girl
Thoodhu – message conveyed
Theedhu – Bad, Not useful
Thaththai – Parrot, Young woman (in this context, parrot)
Odhadhu – Negation of Odhu meaning Utter, chant, convey
Othiththa – Procrastinate, postpone
Adhae – Reflexive Pronoun, indicating the subject mentioned previously, in this case, the message to be sent to her lover
Thaadhu – Nectar, Ore
Oththa – Resembling
Thuthi – Lesion appearing in the skin, lichens
Thaththaadhae – Negative of Thaththu meaning spreading
Thudhithu – Praise, Worship
Thae – God, King, Head of a family etc
Thothu – Climb, Grasp, Clasp. In this context, grasping the feet of God
Thithitha – Tasting good, Sweetness
Odhi – U?tter, Chant
Thidhi – Exist, Stay

The song reflects the sadness in the mind of the young woman who is separated from her man. Her mother comes to her consolation telling her to just divert her thoughts into divine aspects, but the girl is refuses all the options and settles down saying that her lover’s name soothes her more than anything else in the world.

This reflects a marvellous piece of work by Kaalamega Pulavar. This is not all, Kaalamega Pulavar has gone to various extremes, in the following song, he using a single word (Aaruthalai) in different meanings so beautifully and elegantly associating Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Vinayagar and Lord Murugan and the worshippers of Lord Shiva in a single song. The song goes like this

“Sankararukku Maaruthalai Shanmugarkku Maaruthalai
Aingararkku Maaruthalai Yaanadho Sangai
Pidithorkku Maaruthalai Pithaa Nin Paadham
Padithorkku Maaruthalai Paar”

meaning, Lord Shiva has a river in his head, Lord Murugan (Shanmugan meaning Six faces) has six faces. Lord Vinayagar has a different head. Lord Vishnu on the other hand has a Water source as His home. And the worshippers and disciples of Lord Shiva get consolation or in other words have a great good change in their lives as result of their worship

Sankarar – Lord Shiva
Aaruthalai – Aaru (River) + Thalai (Head) – Lord Shiva having a the Ganga River in his head
Shanmugar – Lord Murugan
Aaruthalai – Six heads
Aingarar – Having five hands – Lord Vinayagar
Maaruthalai – Maaru (Changed) + Thalai (Head) – Lord Ganesh has an elephant’s head that is different from the other Gods
Sangai Pidithor – Sangu (Conch) + Pidithor (Holder) which is Lord Vishnu
Aaruthalai – Aaru (River) + Thalai (Head) – Lord Vishnu having a Water body as his home. His other name Narayana means person residing in water.
Pithaa – Another name for Lord Shiva
Nin Paadham – Your (Lord Shiva) feet
Padithor – People who have realised, learned etc
Maaruthalai – Can be interpreted in two ways. Aaruthalai means Consolation, Solace. Maaruthal – Change or betterment in life

Truly Kaalamegam stands out of the crowd and his proven his mastery of poetry. He is a man to be honoured for ages come. There were other interesting incidents that happened in the life of Kaalamegam, one such event is the tussle with Kambar, the Kavi Chakravathi. Usually when poets fight, it will be a war of words that will be very interesting and of course they maintain the diplomacy, political correctness and the decency, yet insult each other with words very tactfully that makes things more interesting. Lets see more about this in the future posts.

More to come, until then…

Kaalamega Pulavar is known for his great poetic knowledge. We already seen a bit about him in the Power of Aram, where he appears to be notorious for singing Arams against persons. But actually he is revered as a great poet of all times. His original name was Varadhan and he was serving the Vishnu temples and was a Vaishnavite. He had fallen in love with a lady called Mohana, a Dancer among the group of dancers called Deva Daasis, who was a Shaivite. In those days, there was a strong opposition between the Shaivite and Vaishnavite followers. Initially Mohana fell in love with Varadhan but her Shaivite friends started insulting her for having relationship with a Vaishnavite whom the Shaivites hate. So Mohana avoided Varadhan for this reason and this made Varadhan to become a Shaivite and he became one. Later one day, Varadhan was waiting in a temple mandapam for Mohana to return. At that time, Goddess Parvathi, took the form of a young girl in order to bless a disciple who prayed rigorously. She appeared before that disciple and asked him to open his mouth so that she can spit the divine mixture of betel leaves etc called Thamboolam. The disciple did not realise that the young girl was Goddess Parvati incarnate and shooed her away for disturbing his prayer. Goddess Parvathi thought that the disciple’s mind is not mature yet to attain the knowledge he wishes. So she went back and on the way she saw Varadhan sleeping in the temple. She went near him and asked to open his mouth. Varadhan just getting out of his sleep opened his mouth without any question and the Goddess spit the Divine mixture, indicating Her grace for him. From then on, Varadhan got the ability to sing songs in a twinkle of an eye and later on became a poet who would shower poems as the heavy clouds would shower rain and hence the name Kaalamegam.

Kaalmegam’s use of pun in his songs is so remarkable and so seamlessly merged with the real meaning in the songs, earning him the name “Silaydai Pulavar” (see Interesting use of Pun in Tamil Literature). But he is much more famous for another form of songs, that is using only the letters in the sequence of alphabets. For eg, some of his songs would use the letters in the Ka sequence only (Ka, Kaa, Ki, Kee and so on). This is the most difficult of all songs that to my knowledge he is the only one who has sung such songs. Now lets get into his songs. The following song uses only the letters in the Ka sequence

“KaakaiKaa KaaKoogai Koogaikkaa KaaKaakkai

Koakkukkoo Kaakkaikku KokkuKokka Kaikaikkuk

Kaakaikkuk KaiKaikkuKaa Kaa

A very tough song to understand, lets rephrase the song as follows

“Kaakaiku Aagaa Koogai Koogaikku Aagaa Kaakkai
Koakku Koo Kaakkaiku Kokku Okka Kaikaiku Kaakkaiku
Kaikku Aiykku Aaga Kaa”

Still tough ain’t it. Well lets see the meaning of the song. It means in the night the crow’s enemy is the owl that can see in the night, whereas the crow cannot. In the day, the crow is the enemy for the owl as the crow can see in daylight whereas the owl is nocturnal. However the owl is more stronger than the crow. Likewise the king who wishes to protect his country from enemies by waiting like the stork that waits patiently to make its meal before making an attack, will sometimes be defenceless the owl though he is more powerful than the enemies are.

Kaakai – Crow
Aagaa – Will not go together, disagreement, enemity, inability to do,
Koogai – Owl

Ko – King, Cow, God. In this context, King
Koo – Land, Territory, Country
Kaakkai – The act of protecting (Kaaval)

Kokku – Stork
Okka – Resembling in action or appearance

Kaikkai – Opposing the enemies

Kai – Talent, Hand
Aiy – King

Kaa – Protecting

Very great usage of the language and the eloquence exhibited is really marvellous. This is not all to Kaalamegam’s credit. The next song, that uses the ‘Tha’ sequence, goes like this

“Thathithaa Thoodhi ThaaThoodhi Thaththudhi

Thuthi Thudhaithi Thudhaidha Thaadhoothi

Thithitha Thithitha Thaadhedhu Thithitha

Theththaadho Thithitha Thodhu!

The song is sung as a question to the bee. The meaning of which is as follows, You go jumping from flower to flower tasting the nectar from the flower. When jumping from a flower to a flower, you squeeze the flowers oozing the nectar out of them and then drinking that nectar. You have drunk nectar from various flowers. Which of those flowers had a nectar that tasted sweet? Tell me those flowers that had the nectar that tasted sweet.

Lets rephrase the song to have a better understanding

Thathi Thaadhu Oodhi Thaadhu Oodhi, Thaththudhi
Thuthi Thudhaithi Thudhaidha Thaadhu Oodhi

Thithitha Thithitha Thaadhu Yedhu Thithithadhu
Yeth Thaadho Thithithadhu Odhu!

Thathi – Jump, Hop
Thaadhu – Nectar from flowers

Oodhi – blowing, drinking. In this context, drinking

Thaththudhi – form of root word Thathudhal, meaning hopping

Thuthi – Drink, Eat
Thudhaithi – Crushing, Forcing together

Thudhaidha – Pouring of liquid when squeezed, esp oozing of nectar from flowers
Thithitha – Sweet Taste
Yedhu – which

Odhu – tell, utter, chant

The above song really elevates Kaalamegam as one the greatest poets in the history of Tamil Literature. And being gifted with such a prowess is really marvellous. And composing poems with an indepth using a single letter sequence, is really a great feat to be admired. The next song of Kaalamega is left as an exercise for the reader. Just kidding, will post the meaning of this song in the next post.

“ThaadheeThoo ThoTheedhu Thaththaithoo Thodhaadhu
ThaadheeThoo Thothitha Thoodhadhae Thaadhotha
Thuthithath Thaadhae Thudhithuthae ThothTheedhu
Thithitha Thothith Thithi”

More to come, until then…