Recently on a day of Pongal celebrations at a local library, the function organizer was seen displaying turmeric rhizomes to the school children and explaining to them that the yellow turmeric powder, which is bought in packets from provision shops and departmental stores these days, is extracted from the rhizomes. He also said in a lighter vein to the audience that, in the days of rapid urbanization, children, who hardly know about agriculture, think that water is ‘born’ in their house taps and rice is ‘grown’ at the green grocer’s! However, decades ago, when cultivable lands were no real estate plots in the Kongu region, agriculture was inseparable from the everyday life of the people. And they worshipped their traditional occupation even in wedding ceremonies by reciting the 70 poems on agriculture attributed to the great Tamil poet Kambar.
The 70 poems, which are collected as a book titled Eaer Ezhupathu, are recited in the wedding ceremonies of the Kongu Vellalar community.
Reminding the meaning of the famous couplet “They alone live who live by agriculture; all others lead a cringing, dependent life” from the great literature Thirukural, poet Kamban too praises the farming community in his work.
What if, when children are born
In families of austere Brahmins,
Powerful monarchs and rich merchants
And rise to the heights of fame
But, greater are those who hail from
For, they alone keep the earth alive.
Kamabar says in another poem of Eaer Ezhupathu that every occupation in the world is not only next to agriculture but because of agriculture.
The yagnas performed by Brahmins
The bounteous wealth amassed by powerful monarchs
All are born from nowhere
But, from the plough of the farmer,
A prophet, who predicts the world’s destiny
C. Subramaniam, former Vice-chancellor, Tamil University, Thanjavur, in his book Kongunaattu Mangala Vazhthu Paadal, says that a farmer is called by different names as Vellalan, Karaalan and Kudiyanavan. Researching the etymology behind the words, Subramaniam points out that the word Vellalan literally means a person who ‘rules the flood’ ( Vellam), Karalan as the one who ‘rules’ the rain with ‘Kaar’ meaning ‘rain’ and Kudiyanavan, as the one who protects the people with ‘Kudi’ meaning people.
Kambar’s Eaer Ezhupathu , which also calls the farming community as Karalar, praises the glories of agriculture and describes the tradition of cultivating lands through indigenous methods and tools. Kambar writes a poem even on the use of spade (Manvetti) in agriculture thus:
The Goddess of wealth seated on
The nectar-filled flower
The happy Deity of earth
And the Goddess of victory
Protect the earth from disaster
However, harm will not near the planet
When farmers work on lands
With their spades
Compiled by: B. Meenakshi Sundaram
Sources: Kavi Chakravarthy Kambanin Eaer Ezhupathu, Kongunaattu Mangala Vazhthu Padal – Dr. C. Subramaniam, Kongu Kalanjiayam – Volume I
Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/2289129