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Nedunalvaadai: The Long Frigid Breeze of Solace
Nedunalvaadai is a Third Sangam Tamil classic written around 300 BC. Even though it appeared as a prolonged, bitter, cold and windy period, it ends with a solace for the queen.
Prem Senthil Shanmugam
Associate Professor
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Nedunalvaadai is a Third Sangam Tamil classic written around 300 BC. In a previous TamilCulture article, I wrote an introduction and dealt with the bard who wrote this epic. In that same writeup, I had also explained about the season "The Vaadai" upon which the whole epic was constructed. This is a follow up to that writeup completing the rest of the epic in great detail for the wider Tamil diaspora to behold and cherish.

Moothur, The Ancient City

மாடம் ஓங்கிய மல்லல் மூதூர்

ஆறு கிடந்தன்ன அகல் நெடுந் தெருவில்  (30)

In this rich, ancient town with tall

mansions, where the wide and long

streets appeared like a river

(As translated by Vaidehi Herbert, Hawaii)

The city was full of multi-storied buildings with streets as wide as the river. In the streets, strong bodied valiant men, with their garlands of leaf and flower, were seen walking around until late night. They wore an attire, which hung on both sides. They smelled of bees swarming toddy, as they were engorged in drinking the abundance. In the marketplace, delicate, slender, maiden girls were found wearing conch bangles, in their bamboo- like arms preparing themselves for the evening rituals. Their teeth resembled an array of pearls. They wore matching earrings and their wide eyes gleamed with moisture. They lit their smelted iron lamps with oil filled wicks. They collected the green stemmed pitchi flower (a kind of jasmine) in a tray, which announced the arrival of the evening by opening its tender petals. It was the time to start the prayers by tossing paddy and flowers and with their palms pressed together. They celebrated the worship in the busy market place.

The Common Household

The pair of pigeons in the house were so confused about the time of the day and refused to go out in search of its food. They stayed close to each other and refused to leave and repeatedly changed it’s tired legs one after the other. They were so perplexed and refused to leave each other company .This is what this long cold weather brought to them. They were spending most of their time on the wooden plank under the awning of the front yard. Inside the house the domestic helpers were engaged in their tasks. They ground the aromatic substance for its fragrance. The sandal paste on the round stone, brought from the north was left untouched. No one prefered sandal paste on the cold windy night.The lady of the household did not tie her black strands of hair and ignored to decorate except for a few strings of carelessly pinned flowers.The helpers were busy lighting up the fireplace with the fragrant akil wood and they also burnt the candied sugar. The windows facing the perfect north was tightly latched, so as not to let the cold winds to come in contact with the people inside the house. The round red, hand-held crafted fan, used during the hot humid times were left unused. They were hanging on the wall, in the its designated hook. People refused to drink cold water from the narrow mouthed pot but prefered the heat emanating from the wide mouthedl fire pot.The dancing girls were ready to sing. They were seen readying their lute by tuning and adjusting the scales, They were hugging and rubbing the lute against their big warm breasts to keep it tuned.

The Palace and the Queen

The palace was built on the solid ground. On a bright day the architects, who were the specialist in their field of work calculated the shadow and coordinates for the structure.They were found to be using threads and sticks to mesure.They perfected the calculation on the midday when sun is at the vortex, They also noted the directions and prayed the Gods before the actual building process started. This standard was applied according to the stature of the king, for whom the structure was  commisioned. The Palace had a high raise compound wall, with double door entry, carpentered to perfection by an expert in the making of the door. It was made of strong wood with iron fasteners and polished with red wax. The doorknob had an exquisite design of the water lily bud about to bloom. The twin door fitted so well that it was impregnable and there was no gap in between the doors. The double door could  accommodate a war elephant to march through with full armoury with the banner mounted on its back. Going through the double door was like going through a carved mountain. The palace had  a courtyard and a front yard. The courtyard was designed such a way,  that the full moon brightness can be fully harnessed. It was also decorated with a fountain with a shark spout. The front yard was spread with fine sand to accommodate elephants and horses.

In the Queen’s Sleeping Chamber, a standing maiden lamp (Paavai Vilakku) of Greek’s handy work was placed and oil was poured and the wick was lighted up.The chambermaid dutifully stimulated the flame to its maximum possible brightness. No one dared to enter the queen’s chamber except the famed king himself.The queen’s chamber was decorated in copper paints with silver painted pillars.The walls were adorned with the paintings of many kinds of full blossomof varied flowers. She was laying down on a circular bed called as Paantil.The cot was sculpted out of a war famed 40 year old elephant’s tusk , with elaborate carvings , interspersed with a matured fine wood.She wore cotton cloths iwith flower patterns instead of silk, because of her lover at the warfront. Her intricate large golden jewellery been removed and she was wearing a simple and small earring, right furled conch bangles and a protective thread around her arms. In her delicate finger there was a ring which appeared like a twisted Vaalai fish. A pearl strand decorated her breasts and her forehead was fine bordered with dried up hair. Her long hair was untidy and her eyes were filled with tears to the brim. she was surrounded by the chambermaids and foster mothers in waiting, who were consoling her. They were gently holding her feet and massaging it. She refused to be consoled and was slightly reclining in her bed ,like a painting.

பூந்துகில் மரீஇய ஏந்து கோட்டு அல்குல்   (145-147)

அம்மாசு ஊர்ந்த அவிர் நூல் கலிங்கமொடு

புனையா ஓவியம் கடுப்ப

Her lifted long loins were covered with

soiled clothing, made with bright 

cotton thread, instead of silk

clothing with flower designs.

Lying on her bed without any

makeup, she was like a painting.

(As translated by Vaidehi Herbert, Hawaii)

சிலரொடு திரிதரும் வேந்தன்

The King at the Winter Battle Camp (War Frontier)

பலரொடு முரணிய பாசறைத் தொழிலே  (187 – 188)

The king, who roamed around with few of his warriors was 

engaged in the war business, with many enemy kings.(187-188)

At the winter battle camp near the war front, the king was set to visit the wounded soldiers at the height of the darkness. The wounded soldiers were brave enough to engage the battle trained elephants(வினை நவில் யானை).They were capable of bringing down an armoured elephant,  by slicing through their trunks.The king walked behind the man who was holding a long legged lamp, the flame swayed towards the south due to the cold breeze blowing from the north. The king was ushered by his commander who steered him to the many quarters of the battle camp, He was holding a strong stemmed spear, with neem leaves tied to the blade.The king’s upper body was  covered by a shawl, which  hung on his left shoulder. He placed his right hand on the shoulder of a strong warrior bearing a sword.He inspected the injured soldiers with utmost care with soothing countenance. His royal umbrella strung with pearls on threads prevented the king getting wet from the rain. It also produced sounds due the swaying of pearls from the northerly coldwinds announcing his presence. Along the way he could hear the sound of the fast leaping horses and proud female elephants with bells tied to their back. In the pitch of the darkness, leaving his sleep behind, he diligently moved around the winter war camp with  few in company , preparing for the battle with several enemy kings. He had no time to look after himself, leave alone thinking about the queen,who was separated from him and living in the palace and waiting for the victory at the battlefield. The Nedunalvaadai was really long, harsh and cold, yet it was good and solacing for the queen because of the rapporteur’s account of the happenings in the war front.


This sangam era classic ends at the 188th stanza abruptly with an open-ended speculation about the victory of the king. Even though it appeared as a prolonged, bitter, cold and windy period, it ends with a solace for the queen. For this perpetual warring leader, it was just another victory. With the utmost heavy heart, I am concluding this with the satisfaction of bringing out this anthropologically lived experience to the wider Tamil diaspora scattered around the globe to behold.

Created By
Prem Senthil Shanmugam
Associate Professor
Oncologist/ Associate Professor, Qualified Chef. Exploring Cognitive Anthropology and L...
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