Fathers and daughters

There are plenty of oral tales about the antics of children, but more often than not, the child happens to be male. Krishna’s delightful babyhood, the childish rivalry between Pillayar and Murugan,  young Anjaneyan’s wild desire to swallow the sun are not matched, to the best of my knowledge, by any female deity. Bala Tripura Sundari and Kumari are warrior maidens, but we hardly learn anything about their playfulness or pranks. They come down to us as  purposeful young girls, not as a child with a carefree youth. In other words, we don’t know whether Kumari travelled around the world on a peacock (or another suitable mode) before vanquishing her asura, about her relationship with her parents, or whether she built sand castles or swum to distant rocks.

Meenakshi is an exception. She is not only a warrior queen and fiercely independent, but thanks to Kumara Guruparar’s 17th century work, the Meenakshi Ammai Pillai Tamizh, we get to see, to an extent, the child Meenakshi. There is a verse in this text that, rarely and surprisingly, reflects on the relationship between father and daughter instead of the more common mother-and-son.

Meenakshi comes across as a mischievous, playful toddler who is just learning to speak. She rushes over to her father, the Pandiyan king Malayadwajan, on all fours, and climbs over his broad shoulders. The மழலை – baby talk – spoken by her is the sweetest Tamizh to his ears. There is the imagery in the poem of the prattling baby climbing over her father’s shoulders and neck, where the king feels like he has been garlanded by the a string of Tamizh. He is cooled, his hunger quenched by her babble. She happily perches on his shoulders, emerald-hued, like a peacock. Her red mouth opens in a laugh, like a bright, clear moon. She sways on his shoulders, her babble-talk music to her delighted father’s ears. She is at once the daughter of Malayadwajan and the daughter of the golden peaks.

The poem:

உண்ணிலா வுவகைப் பெருங்களி துளும்பநின்
றுன்றிருத் தாதை நின்னை
யொருமுறை கரம்பொத்தி வருகென வழைத்திடுமு
னோடித் தவழ்ந்து சென்று

தண்ணுலா மழலைப் பசுங்குதலை யமுதினிய
தாய்வயிறு குளிர வூட்டித்
தடமார்ப நிறைகுங் குமச்சே றளைந்துபொற்
றாடோய் தடக்கை பற்றிப்

பண்ணுலா வடிதமிழ்ப் பைந்தாமம் விரியும்
பணைத்தோ ளெருத்தமேறிப்
பாசொளிய மரகதத் திருமேனி பச்சைப்
பசுங்கதிர் ததும்ப மணிவாய்த்

தெண்ணிலா விரிய நின்றாடும் பசுந்தோகை
செங்கீரை யாடி யருளே
தென்னற்கு மம்பொன்மலை மன்னற்கு மொருசெல்வி
செங்கீரை யாடி யருளே.

Translation (by Paula Richman, from here)

Sway back and forth

You stand there,
your inner joy bursting forth.

And then even before
your sacred father calls you,
saying, “Come to me”
and beckons you a single time,
you rush over on all fours.

You feed him the sweet ambrosia
of your childish prattle,
which is so cool
that his burning hunger is quenched.

Then you cling to his broad chest
adorned with kumkum
an grab his wide hands
which extend down
to his golden feet.

You climb over his broad shoulders
garlanded with fresh blooming flowers
of pure musical Tamil,
and onto the nape of his neck.

Green peacock,
stand there and dance,
with clear moonlight
gleaming from your lovely mouth
and green rays
emanating from your sacred body
like the light of emeralds.

Sway back and forth,
one daughter
of the southern king
and of the king of the Himalayas,
Sway back and forth.

What I loved about the poem was the spotlight on the father-daughter relationship (perhaps the poet stands in the mother’s shoes to sing the poem?), her utter childishness and the absolute lack of mention of the warriorhood fated for her or the man she would marry. She is just a happy child of a very loving father here.


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