I like to give a few comments on the subject - achcham,
madam, naaNam, payirppu and say a few words on what they
acham, madam, naaNam and payirppu are considered as the
four feminine qualities in the Tamil tradition. This tradi-
tion dates back to the Sangam period of Tamil culture and
when addressing the word `payirppu', Tamil grammar books say `makatooukkvuNaNnaankinonRu' meaning `one of the four fem-
inine qualities'. `MakaLir' means `women' in Tamil and ac-
ham, madam, naaNam, payirppu are to be taken as the four
principal qualities of women in the Tamil tradition. Some
readers have tried to incorporate `karpu'[ chastity] as one
among these four principal feminine qualities. I like to
point out that these four feminine qualities applies to all
women - girls, monks, etc., and not necessarily to married
women. As one would see, `kaRpu' is implicitly contained in
`payirppu' when it is applied to married women or virgins.
Also, the word `kaRpu' is essentially conjuncted with mar-
ried women of good chastity. Tamil culture respects KaNNagi
as `kaRpukkarasi' but it views MaNimEgalai who becomes a
Buddhist monk when she is young itself as a monk only,
though she is of very high chastity. These words may be ir-
relevant to some readers, but I like to remind them that
`varaivin makaLir'[ prostitutes ] also held a position in
the ancinet Tamil culture and that they are no exception to
the four feminine qualities in the subject. Silappathikaaram
talks about these `varaivin makaLir' in its first two parts
. It is my opinion that acham, madam, naaNam and payirppu
applied to all women in the ancient Tamil culture and not
just to chaste women.
Regarding one poster which commented that women of
`payirppu' can't travel in a crowded Pallavan bus, I request
the author to wake up from our male-dominant society. Not
all traditions are followed to the letter and we are not
living in the Sangam period when these four feminine quali-
ties were put forth. We are living in `Bharati yugam' and we
witness many changes in our society - women education, one
among them. Bharati writes in one of his poems,
Ettaiyum peNkaL thoduvathu theemaiyen
Renni yirundhavar maayndhuvittaar
VeettukkuLLE peNNaip poottivaippO menRa
Vindhai manidhar thalai kunindhaar
We see male chauvinism in the Sangam period itself. Au-
vaiyaar of Sangam period says in his/her `aaththichchoodi',
"thaiyal sol kELeL."
[ Don't listen to women.]
[ Some Tamil scholars like T.M.C.Raghunadhan believe that
Auvaiyaar of Sangam period is the pseudonym of a male poet.
However, the Auvaiyaar, the court poet of Adhiyaman is be-
lievedly a female poet. There are two Auvaiyaars in Tamil
literature! ] Bharathi changed this line to
"thaiyalai uyarvu sei"
[ Respect women.]
in his new "aaththichcoodi". Also worth mentioning is
Bharathi's view regarding the much talked chastity of women.
Our Tamil poet says,
kaRpu nilaiyenRu sollavan dhaariru
katchikkumakthu podhuvil vaippOm
[ People talk on women's chastity. Let us keep
it common to both sides- men and women. ]
A question that one might ask is what about those women
in the ancient days who didn't have the four feminine quali-
ties in the subject. How did the society regard them? I
refer to the Kamba Ramayana to consider this question. The
scene is Rama and his younger brother Lakshmana walking with
the rishi Viswamitra in the forest. They are encountered by
a demon Thaadakai, a woman, on their way. The rishi orders
the young prince Rama to kill the demon, but the prince re-
fuses saying that he can't kill her as she is a woman. Then
the rishi explains Rama that she is not a woman (!) and as
such, the prince is not committing evil by killing her. Also
we see the `asura' woman SurppaNagai taking the form of a
beautiful woman in a later part of the same epic to attract
Rama. Kamba describes her walk towards Rama in a verse of
beautiful `sandham', the popular one beginning `panchiyoLir
vinchukuLir..'. This verse posted first by Kathiravan Krish-
namurthy has been already discussed in the net and I just
like to point out that SurppaNagai exhibits the four femine
qualities in the subject outwardly to Rama, though she is
evil in her heart. Kamba concludes the verse reminding us
that she is a `vanchamakaL' , an evil woman.
Having said that I like to say a few words on what do the
four words in subject mean, as the four feminine qualities
in Tamil tradition. All these are Tamil words and they are
not derived from any Sanskrit word to my knowledge.
1.achcham : A common meaning for `achcham' is `fear'. Tamil
poet Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram writes on one of his
"achcham enbathu madamiyadaa
anchaamai dhraavidar udamaiyadaa.."
Here he means `fear' when he uses the word `achcham' in
Can we take `fear' as the first feminine quality addressed
in the Sangam culture? I like to refer to the Tamil epic
Silappathikaaram and consider the}i case of KaNNagi who is
respected as `KaRpukkarasi'[ the queen of chastity ]. When
she gets to know that her husband is executed by the Pandi-
yan king for a crime he did not commit, she becomes very
furious and she walks to the court of Pandyan king with a
boiling anger for the injustice committed her - the execu-
tion of her beloved husband. She has no fear at all in ad-
dressing either the gate-keeper of the king's court or in
talking with the Pandya king. I can't take the word `achc-
ham' meaning `fear' as a feminine quality. It means some-
thing else and for that we have to consider other meaings of
the Tamil word `achcham'. One of the meanings of `achcham'
is the tree `agaththi'. This tree is marked with its thin-
ness. It is easy to cut these trees. Actually,`thinness' is
yet another meaning for `achcham'. From this meaning, we
deduce that `achcham' means `gentleness' as the first fem-
2. naaNam : `naaNam' means `shyness', `delicacy' or
`modesty'. We take `shyness' as the second feminine quality.
To quote a Tamil song with this word in usage, we have the
KaNNadasan's song in `aayiraththil oruvan',
"naaNamO ? innum naaNamO ?
indha jaadai naadagam enna ?.."
3. madam : A common meaning for `madam' is `monastery'. It
should be obvious that this meaning can't be taken as the
third feminine quality. So we look for other meanings of the
Tamil word `madam'. An another meaning for `madam' is `ig-
norance'. This meaning, `ignorance', is the third feminine
quality . That `madam' was considered as a feminine quality
indicates the primitiveness of the Sangam culture.
4. payirppu : This word is not in usage and I don't know of
any common meaning of this Tamil word. This word really
means `a state of uneasiness at the sight or hearing any-
thing offensive - abhorrent feelings'. We take this to mean
`delicacy' or `high chastity' or `shrinking from what is
mean or vile' as the fourth feminine quality.
Thanks for reading,
- Sundara Pandian.
[ sp2@cec1.WUSTL.edu ]
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