தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 18

Law and order are the guidelines and détentes in society for normal life. They have to be followed because they are enforced. But every aspect of life cannot be regulated and enforced. Hence our wise forefathers’ devised unenforceable codes of conduct.

Among those religions appear to me, as the most pronounced, universal and effective. Man from ages past used the bull as an important source of power for draft. Bull by itself does not procreate. Replacing wasted source of power was vital. So the wise man made the cow sacred. The bull is not sacred here, but perhaps here was a chance for someone-else to put his two cents worth and made the Bull the personnel carrier of Siva. If not for this religious taboo the sacred cow and the species, would have met the same fate as the American Bison. Anybody who had tasted a "Rose of Texas" steak or any other stake at the Stockyard Restaurant in Fortworth Texas will know what I am talking about. May be the street cow of India which thrives on newspapers and the bunch of ‘kanakAmparam’ on women’s ‘konhdy’ may have survived the butchers knife.

Our ‘villu vanhdil’ was drawn by a bullock-a bullock is a bull that can be trusted with the cow not to procreate. Before the high yielding breeds as Holstein, Fresian, Jersey and others for milk and Angus for beef were introduced, the Brahma cattle gave the local breeds, (‘NAddAn’), the ‘vanni’ breed a versatile breed and the imported Kankeyan breed from India. Kankeyans were majestic animals and young bulls were used in races. The long inward curving horns, fitted with a brass ‘kOpuram’ shaped ferrule polished to give a golden look. The white color and the shining skin with a bunch of ‘ ‘jingle jangle’ bells tied in colorful ribbons around the neck, or a long gold chain with tiny bells.

To watch the pair of them pulling a ‘moddyc cavAri vanhdil’ or to hold that red, blue or sometimes a leather rein, wielding the whip, to sit erect without a seat belt and urge the pair to pass the cart in front! I was too young to do solo, so the driver will sometimes hold me as if he was a pillion rider in a motorcycle. Sellathurai, the two Selvams, Rajaratnam, Kandaswamy all from Chankanai spent a fortune maintaining these playmates. Later ‘iLyjanhnhy’ from Mallakam organized ‘vanhdil cavAri’ tournaments annually on ‘pongkal day.’ I asked my father for a a pair of Kankeyans for racing, not only I was too young but I had a mission to accomplish, he said. The ‘Izattavar’s’ asset-educational endeavor-had to be developed toits full capacity and reach the desired goal, enter the university. Therefore we struck a compromise.

Father bought a black with white spots bull-calf, the horns were not developed fully and its nose was not pierced for the nose-ring. I had to use a form of a horse harness to the face without the bit, out of rope made from sunhemp. A coconut rope on the face would have hurt the calf as it was rough. My cousin and neighbor Bala my pal was there to help me bathe and feed the bull. It took us sometime to break in the fellow. He was very mich agitated with the harness. We could not keep him in a straight line for quite some time.

Bala used to walk beside him holding on to an extension from the harness and I held the reins. The bull calf was under training. Finally he was broken in and we took him out into the lane leading to our palmyra grove where, traffic was scant. I wanted the bull calf to virtually drag me so that I could keep the rein taut and follow the bull with my chest forward in a water skiing pose. I have seen Sellathurai and others being dragged by their race bulls at times in a trot, other times sprinting at a tremendous speed. The bull panting and frothing from the mouth and sweat spurting from its hot body.

Once exercise is over, the mouth is forced open and the bull's tongue is gently pulled out cleaning the tongue and mouth free of the froth. A good rub down is given before feeding. In addition to the bulk feed such as rice/paddy straw or green grass, (when there was a shortage of green grass, palmyra green leaves are cleaned of the hard part such as the mid rib/ekel and green 'muL murukku'-erythrina indica- leaves are substituted, these majestic animals were fed with oil cakes such as coconut and gingilly or sesame and rice bran.

Normally race bull’ ‘Oddupavar’ carry a very long rein coiled around the shoulder and left or right arm depending on whether one was left or right handed. As the speed increases more rein is given. We were well equipped for that and on the first run, once we came to a good spot, I gave 'cuddijan' -because of the white spots he was so named - the word to run-'OdadA RAcA Odu.' Whether Bala was day dreaming or my shouting scared the calf it jumped and dragged me with it. I tripped on a stone and fell on my face taking Bala with me. The exited calf kept on dragging us and stopped on its own void. All the time I was like a true 'mAddukkAran' did not let go of the rein. Well, without any loss of limb or teeth except for a few bruises, my ardor for racing behind a bull came to an abrupt end that day. My love for the bull continued.

The white cross breed to pull our 'villu vanhdil' was a healthy animal with the three lines branded across its escutcheon. The horns were short but curved inward. I used to sandpaper the horns to keep them shining, feed him with bread, fruits and even cooked rice, whenever I was free. There was a problem with the fellow. He could not stand the smell of blood.

Those days we had ram sacrifice in 'vyravar and amman' temples. After the 'vELvi' in a temple or while passing a butcher shop, somebody had to walk beside him. Otherwise he will not take another step forward, and I remember an incident when passing a temple off the beaten track, he jumped so high while in motion, we almost were thrown out of the Cart. He was beautiful and almost human.

Carpenters were working on some project at home. They needed some more material. One of them, Krishner, used our bullock to pair with his bullock for the cart to go to the hardware stores. On his way, it seems Krishner slipped and fell between our bull and the wheel. I have mentioned earlier there was no seat belt and if the cart hits a pot hole or an obstacle one could lose balance and fall off the cart. Krishner must have hit a pot hole, poor fellow, he did not hit the jack pot but almost kicked the bucket that day.

According to him he was saved by our bullock. When he fell between the wheel and the bullock, the bullock spread-eagled his hind legs and stopped dead on track. It was a little difficult to believe, but his explanation and my later understanding of the function of differential or 'diparancar' in Tamilized form, gave veracity. No sooner the one bullock stopped, the other was continuing its motion, and the cart would have swung around the stopped wheel placing him away from the path of the wheel but still behind the bullock’s hind legs. Krishner never failed to pay his respects to the bullock as long as he lived. The poor fellow contracted tuberculoses, that was very common during the war days, may be as a result of under-nourishment and lack of medical care

I believe it is no big deal to eat meat, so long as there is a policy of systematic rearing and harvesting, in other words a planned cropping system. Furthermore, we are not supposed to eat cow only, but the excess bull, a good source of animal protein should not be wasted. Long before we were subjected to foreign rituals, 'tamiz' literature tells of 'veRijAdal' a form of joyous dance after partaking of toddy, ram blood (ram is Mr. Goat, as Mrs. Dog is a bitch), is offered by severing the head from the body as a sacrifice to propitiate the deities.

Today the tendency is to mix old traditions with rituals. We are vegetarians on say Fridays and on other auspicious days and are meat eaters the rest of the week. From a healthy eating habit point, a mixed food habit is good, I fast sometimes, I eat only vegetarian food soe other times and meat, fish most of the time. It is the religious hypocrisy of not eating meat on Fridays because it is Friday, and then anxiously wait for Saturday or Sunday to eat meat, that I do not understand. We honor useful animals by setting a special day during the month of 'ty' on 'paddip pongkal' day.

Talking of rituals, many come to mind. One is the use of margosa leaves-'vEppilai'- tied at the entrance to the house to indicate that the house is under quarantine. There were news items recently extolling the importance of margosa-neem- as a medicinal plant. Most of the ancient customs and traditions are scoffed at by people as superstitions and paganism. Just because we do not understand or we do not encounter the phenomena, does not prove anything one way or another.

My parents believed in ghosts and in divine power. I have been traveling in areas where others have sighted ghosts at midnight when ghosts are supposed to roam. I had so far not encountered any apparition. I cannot swear that there is no ghost. My mother told me of an incident at home. Around 3.00 A.M. one day a woman in white sari wanted somebody to direct or better still show her carpenter Kandia’s house.

My mother told the woman that there was nobody suitable to help her and the woman went away. Up to now a dull story, the scary part is, the next day inquiries revealed that Kandia and his crew have felled a very old Tamarind tree. It was also well known that particular tree was the abode for a very old ‘muni’ that is the ferocious one among ghosts. ‘pEj’ is harmless, and ‘kotti jAtty’ is the cigar smoking old and feeble ghost and ‘koLLi vAlp pEj’ is the luminous one with an open torch attached to its tail. Kandia admitted that they felled the tree’ but he did not know of anybody fitting mother’s description!

More on ‘kOvil vEzvi.’ next.


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