Items, Systems And Practices That Prove The Rich Tradition Of Tamil culture
The culture of a region is nothing but the "way of life" of the people of the region. So, when you talk about the Tamil culture, you are looking at the way of life of the Tamil people or Tamilians. Anthropologists throughout the world accept the fact that "Tamilians have been living a gracious life that has been formed during the many centuries". Their lives have been conditioned not only by the place where they have been living but by the climate of the region, their language, religion, the foods they have been eating, the sports and games they have been playing, the items they have been using and so on. These anthropologists point out that Tamilians have been using palm leaves for writing, gingelly oil or sesame oil for cooking, marakkal and padi for measuring grains, muram for keeping and cleaning grocery items and so on. At the same time, Tamilians have been proving time and again that they are highly liberal-minded because they have always been ready to embrace the good features and habits of other cultures. Therefore, it is quite evident that the Tamil culture has been an all-embracing one.
Since many centuries, the tamils have been mostly adopting Hinduism as their religion. More than 80% of the Tamils are Hindus and this has influenced the items they have been using. In fact, they consider some of the items they use as sacred items. Let us have a look.
Marakkal and Padi: These were items that were being used for measuring food grains. If you delve deep and try to find out the volume of food grains that can be measured in a marakkal, you can find the following information.
360 nel = 1 sevidu, 5 sevidu = 1 aazhakku, 2 aazhakku = 1 uzhakku, 2 uzhakku = 1 uri, 2 uri = 1 padi and 8 padi = 1 marakkal. Marakkal is also known as kuruni. All these items used for measuring food grains are said to house "Lakshmi", the Goddess of Wealth. According to Hinduism, Goddess Lakshmi manifests Herself in 8 forms like Mahalakshmi, Dhanya Lakshmi, Dhana Lakshmi, Santhana Lakshmi, Veera Lakshmi, Vijaya Lakshmi, Gaja Lakshmi and Vidhya Lakshmi. These items used for measuring food grains are said to house Dhanya Lakshmi. "Dhanyam" in Sanskrit and Tamil means food grains. So, Goddess Dhanya Lakshmi is said to reside in these items that are used for measuring food grains.
Muram: Another item that has been in use since ancient times is the "muram". This is generally made of bamboo leaves. Tamils have been using this for storing and cleaning various food items. Nowadays, "murams" made of plastic are being used also, though those made of bamboo leaves are still being used by many traditional-minded Tamils. Since murams are used for storing as well as cleaning food items, they are also considered sacred. Goddess Dhanya Lakshmi is said to reside in murams also. Unfortunately, the number of people using murams is also coming down.
Palm leaf or "Olai Suvadi": Tamils have stopped using this item, thanks to the invention of paper. Of course, environmental experts are trying to get rid of paper also because they are trying to have a "paperless world". The reason for their opposition to paper is that many trees used to be felled for manufacturing paper. Since felling of trees is causing immense harm to the flora and fauna, environmental experts are against using paper. Nowadays, many other innovative methods that do not require felling of trees have been invented for manufacturing paper. The point that is being stressed here is that Tamils were using palm leaves in the place of paper. All the ancient literature of Tamil used to be written on palm leaves. Even during the Sangam Age, great poets and men of letters used to test if their writings were accepted by "Sanga Palagai" or the Sangam Board by throwing the palm leaves that contained their writings into the waters of "Pon thamarai kulam" or "Pottramarai kulam", that means "the tank that contains golden lotuses" in Madurai. If the palm leaves floated, it meant that the writings had been accepted by the "Sanga Palagai" or the Sangam Board. If they did not, it meant that they had been rejected. Though the practice of using of palm leaves for writing has been dispensed with after the invention of paper, their popularity is still there because Tamils still speak proudly of "olai suvadis" or palm leaves.
Kudavolai: "Kudam" in Tamil means a big pot and "olai" means a palm leaf. The Kudavolai system that was practiced in Tamilnadu proves that democratic systems were being adopted even during the periods of the Chola period. According to the inscriptions created by Parantaka Cholan on the temple walls of Vaikunta Perumal in Uttiramerur, Kudavolai system was being practiced even during 900 A.D. According to this system, the heads for village administration were being elected by democratic means. A "kudam" would be kept in the villages and the villagers would write the names of their preferred leaders on the palm leaves and deposit them in the kudam. The palm leaves would then be counted and whoever had got the highest number of votes would be elected as the head of the village. This practice is not in vogue any more, though India is still a one of the largest democracies in the whole world.
There are many other items that would prove the cultural richness and heritage of the Tamils. Especially, Tamil music and architecture were being patronized by various kings and rulers. Tamils have always been having a global vision and several poets right from Kanian Poongunranar till the great poet, Subramanya Bharathi, sang about Universal Brotherhood and the oneness of the world community. The Tamils were having trade and cultural relationship with Greece and Rome and the Greeks and Romans were called Yavanas.
Unfortunately, Tamils were not keen in keeping and maintaining the records of their history and cultural heritage. So, it is necessary that all those who have access should gather as much information about the Tamil culture and this will go a long way in educating the posterity.