Tuesday, 17 April 2012

katradu kaimmannalavu

I was fortunate to lay my hands on a collection of short stories and essays by a number of great Tamil writers. One of the pieces was written by Namakkal V Ramalingam Pillai, a great Tamil scholar, poet and freedom fighter. It was written in 1949.He describes in it how he practically realised the fact “Katradu Kaimmannalavu”. (The saying “Katradu Kaimmannalavu; kalladadu ulagalavu” means what one has learnt is comparable to only a handful of sand whereas what he has yet to learn is the whole of earth. That when such a great scholar like Mr. Pillai should say this, what are we the illiterates in comparison should do is altogether a different matter).
He used to make discourses on the great Kamba Ramayanam(Don't move away my dear non believer friends. The book has immense literary value and our discussion here is not about Ram either).
Pillai recalls a particular verse in which Kaikeyi replies to Mandara(Kooni), when the latter tells her friend to insist for her son Bharath's Pattabhishekam. Kaikeyi gets furious at Mandara. This is Surya kulam—descendant's of Sun god and Manu. The kings born in this kulam will never do anything that is not proper. They follow the rules strictly like the peacock(Mayil murai kulathurimai). Why do you want to bring down their fame by asking them to crown Bharat instead of the eldest son Ram. You are too bad.
Pillai is not able to get the correct meaning of the line regarding rules of the peacock. He refers so many books and discusses with many learned persons. But he doesn't get a convincing reply. After about a dacade he happened to read an issue of the magazine Scientific American. It is an authentic science magazine publishing research papers on various subjects. It contained an article on birds. It was an outcome of an elaborate research done scientifically. Pillai read the part regarding peacocks. It was written that all the peacock siblings move from place to place in one group along with the mother peahen. When the time for displaying the plumage comes it is invariably the eldest peacock who starts the dance and then only the rest follow suit. This was found out by tieying different colour rings to the siblings and observing them for a long time,it was written. Pillai is elated.He shares his joy with his Kamba Ramayanam guru.
Thereafter during Kamba Ramayanam discourses and discussions with other scholars, he would explain this with great pride as if it was he who did the research and found the truth. Even many renowned scholars were not aware of the fact until he told them.
After quite some time Pillai happened to hear that some old man was making a very interesting discourse on Kamba Ramayanam in a nearby temple. When Pillai went to the temple, he was describing Vibishana's surrender quite interestingly. But Pillai felt sure that he won't know the meaning of Mayil murai kulathurimai and wanted to show off before him. While having a private talk with him he asks about it. Pat comes the reply. He describes in detail the facts as stated in the magazine. Pillai was awe struck. Pillai decides that someone who has read the Scientific American must have informed him. But the old man says that it is written in an old Tamil puranam and quotes the line which describes the Peacock Rule. Pillai feels humbled by the depth of his knowledge and notes down the line and the name of the Puranam in a piece of paper and memorises the line. He started quoting the line while making Kamba Ramayanam discourse thereafter. He would add that Tamilians have found out long back the facts regarding the peacock rule much before tha Ameriacn scientists.(Kambar lived in 12th century)
But he loses the paper in which he wrote down the name of the book and the author and is unable to recall that. After some time he was asked to inagurate a college library for which books were donated by a great Tamil scholar. He tells the audience about the peacock episode and his inabilty to find the name of the book. A few days after that he receives a letter from one of the college students who listened to his speech that the said line appears in Thanikai Puanam (written much before Kambar's period)as 244th verse. Pillai feels humbled again. He could not get the clear facts from great scholars for the past 35 years and here a student comes out with the details. Alas. Katradu kaimmann alavu; kalladadu ulagalavu indeed, he muses.


  1. Naan Kattrathu erendu - Mayil Murai Kulathu urimmai (the phrase and the meaning and its usage)& humility.

  2. Thanks. Keep sending feed backs. Regards.

  3. My heart goes out to you. Earlier and by earlier I mean mid 90s, you would try quoting a few of your favourite thirukkurals and kamba ramayanams to two hapless souls who would disdainfully say, 'grow up, mom'. In the intermittent years, both their education and their careers have taken them far from you and you are forced to start a blog and they have to be content with that!

    Btw, I did borrow your oft quoted 'annanum nokkinaal...' to highlight a very hilarious incident in altogether different context. Let me catch hold of that piece in soft copy and shall mail it across.