Indian Journal of Eco-criticism (IJE), Vol. 1. Aug. 2008.

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Ecological elements in the songs of the Poraja and the ancient Tamils Merlin Franco, F. and D. Narasimhan Department of Botany, Madras Christian College Poraja is a Dravidian tribe found in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The Poraja folk songs reflect nature in various conditions and use ecological elements extensively. This paper brings out the similarity in the usage of ecological elements in songs of the Poraja and in cagkam literature of Tamil Nadu. The Poraja believe in the existence of forest goddesses for whom, the existence of forests is vital. This is similar to the concept of ‘kaaTamar celvi’ of cagkam literature. In both the Poraja as well as cagkam tradition, natural happenings are used as metaphors to explain the human mood. Offering “paan” is considered as wooing in Poraja culture whereas the same is recited with a negative connotation in cagkam literature. These similarities could be because of the common Dravidian base from which both the traditions had arisen. Poraja is a Dravidian tribe living in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. In Orissa, they are concentrated in the Koraput district and speak a Dravidian language called Parji (Singh 996). The Madras Census Report records seven distinct classes of the Poraja (Senapati & Sahu 103). The origin of the name is said to be from ‘praJaa’ meaning ‘subjects of the king.’ Though Poraja are also called as ‘Paraja’ or ‘Porja’ in this essay they will be referred to as “Poraja” as they are commonly known among themselves. Having lived in close harmony with nature for hundreds of years, the Poraja have evolved a culture which celebrates nature and its elements (Franco and Narasimhan 4). They are said to be one of the most artistic tribes of Orissa. From tattoos that adorn the hands of the Poraja women to the paintings used to adorn walls, their cultural wealth is immense. Songs and dances are vehicles of expression of the emotions of the people. The Poraja folk songs portray various human emotions, which are usually compared with the natural elements. For example, a gloomy human mood is often compared to a dark sky. The Poraja way of living is quite similar to the ancient Tamil way of living, as evident from cagkam poetry which consists of two poetic anthologies known as pattuppaaTTu (Ten songs)and eTTuTTokai (Eight Anthologies). Since these poems, composed before 200 A.D., gained the approval of the literary academy (cagkam), they were popularly known as “cagkam poetry.” These poems depict the life of ancient Tamils. The Tamils were known for their ecologically sound way of living which was facilitated by a deep understanding of their ecosystem. This is understood from the concept of tiNai where the landscapes are classified into five categories: kurijci, mullai, marutam, neytal and paalai (Selvamony 216). The cagkam songs

Indian Journal of Eco-criticism (IJE), Vol. 1. Aug. 2008. 49-54

portray the culture that existed in the various landscapes of Tamil Nadu and also the various elements such as plants, animals, and gods that constituted the ecosystem. Just like the Poraja, the Tamil people of the cagkam period also used ecological elements extensively in their literature. Moreover, both these societies are Dravidian ones with a common ancestry. This paper brings out the parallel patterns of usage of ecological elements in the songs of the Poraja and in cagkam literature of Tamil Nadu. The Poraja originally depended upon their jungles to meet their daily needs. The dense secondary forests that once embraced their poTu (shifting cultivation) fields were enough to sustain the contented tribe. These poTu fields yielded them maaNTiyaa (Finger millet, Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.), danoo (Rice, Oryza sativa L.) and the maaNTiyaa peeJo (Finger millet gruel). All of these provided them with the energy to work while rice formed the base food. The secondary forests provided them with tubers such as tarRi, paraaskaa, goroogkuTi and parGaa (All Diascorea spp.) fruits such as marhaa (Mangifera indica L.), nuundrik kuli (Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels), Jarrik koTi (Buchanania latifolia Roxb.), and also delicious worms such as the grubs of Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Oliv. that infect the sinti (Phoenix acaulis Roxb. ex Buch.-Ham.) trees. Besides satisfying their physical needs, the forests also satisfied the spiritual needs of the Poraja. The Poraja made a rendezvous with their gods in the sacred groves called niSaani and Jaakkeer. The niSaani were established prior to the setting up of hamlets and the Jaakkeer are the formal sacred groves where rituals concerned with domestic requirements and festivals are conducted. Festivals stimulate the spirits of the Poraja youth whose songs penetrate the surrounding forests and fields to reach their beloved in the neighbouring hamlets. The festivals honour their deities and culminate in community meals, strengthening the common bond that unites the villagers. Apart from the gods who dwell in the sacred groves to protect them, the Poraja also worship the forest goddesses for whom the forest is vital. The forest goddess of the Poraja is not just a caretaker of the jungle, but also the one who resides in the jungle. Jeippuur GoTuTTu GoJiyaa GoJiyaa meeTukku teyyam sattaa bastaa GoJiyaa GoJiyaa meeTuttu reyppuur GoTuttu, biiJappuur GoTuttu teyyam sattaa bastaa (paali and Taaluu)

Indian Journal of Eco-criticism (IJE), Vol. 1. Aug. 2008. 49-54

(The goddess has a market in the Jeypore buildings, Goddesses of Bijapur and Raipur also dwell in buildings. Trans. Franco). The weekly market plays a key role in the culture of the Poraja. From trade to romance, the markets form the background for any aspect of Poraja life. Markets are also associated with happiness. The Poraja extend this belief to the celestial world too. Hence for the Poraja, the Gods seem to set up markets in the celestial world and enjoy themselves. The above song says that the Goddesses of Jeypore, Bijapur and Raipur who dwelt in the jungle had to move to the buildings when ‘development’ destroyed the jungle and replaced it with the city. The young Poraja girls are glad that their village still harbours a jungle so that the goddess can reside there peacefully. This concept of the jungle Goddess in the Poraja culture is similar to ‘kaaTamar celvi’ of the early Tamils who is believed to be a fearsome feminine force protecting the jungle, as described in the following verse: talaituugku neTumaran taazntupuRaj cuRRip piiTikai yoogkiya perumpali munRiR kaaTamar celvi kaziperug kooTTamum (caattanaar, maNimeekalai 6.51-53) (The huge shrine of the goddess who resides in the jungle, surrounded by tall trees with their branches weighed down by the hanging heads, beside a prominent sacrificial altar in the frontyard. Trans. Selvamony). Though both the traditions speak about the presence of jungle goddesses, the Poraja tradition depicts her as a peaceful power while the Tamil tradition portrays her as a fearsome power. The Tamils regarded their jungles with reverence coupled with the fear of the unknown and hence the jungle goddess was viewed as a fearsome power, while the Poraja found a close association with her in their day-to-day life without any fear. The Poraja recognises the existence of a high correlation between themselves and nature. Just like the condition of nature changes with a corresponding change in time and space, the human mood also fluctuates from joy to sorrow with the changing situations. In both the Poraja as well as cagkam traditions, nature and its manifestations are used as metaphors to explain the human emotions. Consider the following lines: maanaTTaa goTaa duum, minku silu, inikkee silu, kalkku keelaa Jinaa tagki silikkaa biibi silikkaa (paali and Taaluu)

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(In our streams, there are no fishes, but only stones are seen. She is all alone, without her usual company. Trans. Franco). Here the image of the solitary stone is used to explain the emotion of the Poraja maiden. Loneliness is quite unusual for a Poraja maiden who is always flanked by siblings, loyal friends or her sweetheart. This is comparable with a cagkam song that explains the plight of a woman awaiting the return of her lover: yaavatu maRikilar kazaRu vooree taayin muTTai poolavuT kiTantu caayi nallatu piRiteva nuTaittoo (kuRuntokai 152:1-3 in vaiyaapurip piLLai, vol.1, 554) (Those who chide me do not know anything. What could an egg without its mother bird do but perish. Trans. Selvamony). In both the cases, the condition of various elements in nature are brought in to explain the human mood. While it is natural for the stones in a river niche to be surrounded by fishes, it is equally natural for an egg to be guarded by its parent. In both cases, the niches of the respective beings are either violated or do not exist in the proper form. Both Poraja and cagkam songs belong to the domain of akam. akam “consists of such actions that are private and intimate and do not directly involve more than two persons,” puRam does those ‘that are public and may involve any number of persons” (Selvamony 223). Natural happenings are also used to illustrate human activities. The Poraja universe is basically a relational one. Everything is understood in its proper relation to one natural element or the other. However, this relationship may be a linear one or complex. Consider the following lines which speak of a tree and fishes: uusaa daamnoo koTi, eyin kooyi naa tinnaan? kaaTo keeyaa mini, turijci mini, veeTTi sittiyaanaa sinaa (paali and Taaluu) (Near the uusa (spring), there is a daaman tree (Grewia spp.) with fruits. Who eat them? The turijci fish and kaaTo keeyaa fish. Trans. Franco). These lines tell us that the Grewia tree is not fortunate enough to have her fruits eaten by human beings. As her fruits are not tasty enough to be consumed, they have to be devoured by the fishes that live in the spring beneath it. It is indeed true that the fruits of the taaman tree cannot be eaten by human beings. However, it is not devoid of its relationship to some natural phenomenon or the other; it belongs to the fishes that live in

Indian Journal of Eco-criticism (IJE), Vol. 1. Aug. 2008. 49-54

the stream running beneath. Though the song does not explicitly implies this, it has the meaning when sung by the girls as evident from their tone and narration (paali and Taaluu). A similar natural narration is observed in a cagkam song which illustrates the ambiguity with regard to where the mango fruit belongs-to the field or to the vaaLai fish (Ribbon fish, Lepturacanthus savala) living in the pond near by. This complex relationship in nature is used as an analogy in the cagkam song to explain the relationship between the hero and his two wives. This is known from the lines that follow: kazani maattu viLaintuku tiimpazam pazana vaaLai katuuvu muuran emmiR perumozi kuuRit tammiR kayyug kaalun tuukkat tuukkum aaTip paavai poola meevana ceyyuntan putalvan taaykkee (kuRuntokai 8 in vaiyaapurip piLLai, vol.1,70) (The man of the village- where vaaLai fish in the adjacent pond grabs the ripe fruit falling from the mango tree on the field bund- after bragging in our house, will carry out the wishes of his son’s mother in his own like a shadow that raises its hands and feet when the person before the mirror does so. Trans. Selvamony) Sometimes relationships are also influenced by natural elements and this is true in the case of the Poraja also. Natural elements are also known to play an important role in the culture of different communities which is discussed below. Poraja culture has evolved with respect to the elements of their own ecosystem. However, it has been influenced to a considerable extent by the mainstream culture in the recent times due to increased trade with the mainstream people. The use of paan is an example of this influence. paan, which is a combination of betel leaf (Piper betel L.), areca nut (Areca catechu L.) and Calcium carbonate was not part of the culture of the community until recent times when it was borrowed from the mainstream communities. Though precious, paan is a practice not common among the Poraja. Today, offering paan to a girl is considered a method of wooing in Poraja culture, as explained in the song below: matu varttu logkaa marnu, safur safur aakku, naaTTi mihi murli beseey viiru kaali, miTTaa bandan vaktaa (paali and Taaluu)

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(The house with the chilli plant (Capsicum annuum L.) of small leaves before it; the middle son is very brave; He gave miTTa paan to a girl and she fell in love with him.) It is interesting to note that paan which is alien to the ecosystem of the Poraja has come to play an important role in their akam life. This shows that Poraja culture has been rendered porous to external cultural infiltration. paan is called as taampuulam in Tamil tradition. One of the cagkam poems describes an event where a brahmin tries to entice the heroine, who is awaiting her lover, by offering her taampuulam. Here, the brahmin tries to intrude into the akam life of the heroine under the pretext of offering taampuulam to her. In both these cases, a plant is used as a means to gain entry into the woman’s heart. However, in the case of the Tamils, the betel plant was an integral part of their ecosystem. Here is the Tamil song: paaraak kuRazaap paNiyaap pozutanRi yaarivaN ninRii renakkuuRip payyena vaikaaN mutupakaTTiR pakkattiR pookaatu taiyaal tampalan tinRiyoo enRutan pakkaLittuk koNTii yenattaralum (kalittokai 65:10-14 in vaiyaapurip piLLai, vol.1, 418) (Peering, blabbering and slightly bowing, he quipped, “Who are you that waits here at an untimely hour?” “Saying so, without moving away from me, like a bull that chanced upon hay he untied his bag and said to me, ‘O, girl, will you have some betel? Come on, have some!’ ”. Trans. Selvamony). In both the Poraja and Tamil traditions, we could see how paan is used to woo girls, and also how the relationship between a woman and her niche is similar. The Poraja see a relationship between the feminine rhythm and the change of seasons. Nature is perceived as a woman and recognised as a free being without any restrictions. Hence there are no restrictions placed on the women, except in the premises of the sacred groves. The Poraja believe that the beings of the universe exist in pairs who share responsibilities. This concept extends to men and women also who are expected to work together to make their living. The condition is still the same except for the ‘development’ that has intruded into the place. Rapid development has heavily destroyed the Poraja culture. The following lines describe the plight of a tribal girl who was married to a lad from a ‘developing’ village where she is not permitted to go to the field.

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saamu Jaavaa Jokkaa kuulli Jaavaa Jokkaa Tistu niyeeti seheeir dentaa Ganaa too Gatri ganaa too (paali and Taaluu) (She has finished cooking suvaan (Foxtail bristlegrass, Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.) and rice, and now she wants to go to the field. But the family is not allowing her to do so. Trans. Franco). These lines tell us that the girl wants to go back to the field where she belongs. The Poraja women’s niche was never complete without the jungle and the agriculture fields. But marriage has compartmentalised her niche and she is forced to forgo a major part of it. Such a plight can be compared with a somewhat similar one of the heroine of cagkam poetry. In the following lines from a cagkam poem, a foster mother asks the heroine not to go to the field as she is grown up now. Here again, the girl is withheld from her niche. In both the cases, girls are advised not to go to the field, because they are vulnerable. While the Poraja girl was denied freedom in her inlaw’s house, the Tamil girl is denied freedom while she is still in her father’s house itself which suggests that girls, in general were expected to be cautious while going out during the cagkam period. mulaimukaj ceytana muLLeyi Rilagkina talaimuTi caanRa taNTazai yuTaiyai yalamara laayamo TiyaagkaNum paTaaan muppuTai mutupati taakkaNag kuTaiya kaappum puuNTiciR kaTaiyum pookalai (akanaanuuRu 7:1-5 in vaiyaapurip piLLai, vol.1, 467) (Now that you are a grown up girl, do not hang out everywhere with your girl friends. As there are many menacing spirits in this old village, be on your guard and do not go to the frontyard too Gist. Selvamony). From the above parallels, it is understood that nature plays an important role in the culture of the societies living in close proximity with it. Both the Poraja and ancient Tamil cultures have evolved on the basis of interrelationship. This is understood from the reference to the jungle goddess and extensive use of ecological elements in both the traditions. The way of living of the Tamils reflected in the cagkam literature may not be relevant now except for the tribal communities, due to the tremendous change inflicted by urbanisation. Similar patterns of use of ecological elements seen both in the Poraja and cagkam literature could be partly because

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of the Dravidian base from which both the cultures have evolved. The cagkam tradition is no more alive in the mainstream Tamil communities who are fast losing their identity. The tribal communities have to be commended for their attempt at upholding their traditions in order to maintain their identity.

Bibliography caattanaar, maNimeekalai 6.51-53. Ed. u.vee. caaminaataiyar. cennai: TaakTar u.vee. caaminaataiyar nuul nilaiyam, 7th printing, 1981. Franco, F.M. and D. Narasimhan. Issue No.1. Cultural and Ecological Importance of Sacred Groves of Kondhs. SDNP Newsletter, Chennai : CPR Environmental Education Centre, 2006 paali, cukkuJi and puTTiri Taaluu. Personal interview. 12 July 2005. Senapati, N. and Nabin Kumar Sahu. Orissa District Gazetteers, Koraput. Cuttack: Orissa Government Press, 1966. Singh, K.S. The Scheduled Tribes. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994 Selvamony, Nirmal. “An Alternative Social Order”. Value Education Today. Ed. J. T. K. Daniel & Nirmal Selvamony, New Delhi: All-India Association For Christian Higher Education & Chennai: Madras Christian College, 1990. vaiyaapurip piLLai, ed. cagka ilakkiyam. 2 volumes. cennai: paari nilaiyam, 2nd edition., 1967

Acknowledgements We express our sincere thanks to the Director. Deputy Director and the staff of IRDWSI, Semiliguda, Orissa for facilitating the field study on which this paper is based. We also thank Dr. S. Balusami, Department of Tamil; Madras Christian College, Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, Department of English; Madras Christian College and Mr. Rayson K. Alex, Research Scholar, Department of English; Madras Christian College for all their help.

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