Thamizh Culture - A humorous look

Topic started by rjay on Thu Feb 10 12:06:48 .
All times in EST +10:30 for IST.

Celebrating Tamil culture - Part 1.
(a humorous look)


Not everyone in the world gets the great opportunity to be born in the great land of Thamizh culture and to grow up there.
For such unfortunate people, this essay series will give the glimpses of the great experience, ranging from idli, vadai, sambar to
MGR films.

intended audience

The aim of this essay is to describe Thamizh culture in detail to outsiders, so that they too can enjoy it, and learn to respect our greatness
and start paying us royalty.

And for Thamizhs who were born and brought up there, this series will clarify hidden meaning (if it can be found) behind Thamizh customs
and behavior.

origins of tamil culture

What is the origin of the Thamizh culture?
Everyone knows that world's first Thamizh citizens were born just after rocks were born, but before sand was born, so they had to physically crush the rock and make sand for practical use. You can ask me how I know this and whether

I can prove this. I can prove this using ancient literature - which begins with 'kal thondri man thondra kalathae mun thondri mootha
kudi' and I dont know how it goes further.

I am sure you wont ask like an idiot, how can you use ancient poetry as evidence.
This is dumb question, every tamizhan knows that you can and must use ancient
poetry to establish truths. If ancient poetry is not available
you can even write your own ancient poetry. The key here is not
the dates and scientific proof, but the spirit behind it all.

Look at what is happening in these western countries. They go and dig deep
everywhere and do carbon dating etc, then they come up with things which are not
worth celebrating. Instead, we, Thamizhs, assume we are great culture
and we act with pride. This is the key to understanding Thamizh culture and

the unique Thamizh sound
Let us start with what is unique to Thamizh. The first and most important speciality of
Thamizh culture is this 'zha' sound. Everyone knows that it is the unique sound only
available in Thamizh. Again, you may do your research and find that
some unpopular African tribes are also using it without our knowledge,
but unless and until they are found out by civilized world, the sound belongs
only to us.

You may say that most keralites use the zha sound perfectly, and even
show the distinct difference between small 'ra' and big 'Ra',
but for now we will ignore them. What to do?

I cannot write the zha letter in English - I tried a lot with
the bracket key and finally gave up. However, I can imitate the zha sound
by using the English spelling zh, so if you hear from a distance, without much
attention, you will think I am actually saying 'zha' when I am
actually saying 'zha'. (How is this! (idhu eppadi irukku?))

And if writing the letter itself is so difficult, you can imagine the
difficulty of saying it. That is why, nowadays lot of people, especially from
Thamizh nadu, have substituted the 'ya' sound for it. For instance,
if you ask them what happened to the bananas during rainy season, they
will say 'vayapayam mayayinaal ayugi koyakoyathu keeyae viyundhadhu'.
What to do?


Let us begin our discussion with Thamizh festivals.
Pongal is the most important Thamizh festival. This festival is conducted on Thai months'

birthday which comes approximately fifteen days after January month's birthday.

The purpose of pongal festival is to thank the Sun god for shining and rains
for falling down heavily during the rice growing period.

Actually the word Pongal derives from a way of cooking - it literally
means 'cooking something until it rises up and out'.

how to make pongal
To make pongal, first you put rice with sweet jaggery and
milk (some people add water to increase the quantity!) and heat on a
pot whose neck is decorated with tamarind tree, sorry, turmeric tree.
Though I say tree, it is only a small small tree, you can call it tree-let.

After sometime pongal comes out. The mixture expands and 'rises up and out',
that is why it is called pongal. At this time every one should shout
'Pongal-o-pongal', which literally translates to 'coming out - oh it's
coming out' which sounds like panic, but the actual tone and meaning
of the shout is 'coming out means THIS is the coming out!', which sounds
like pride, which is the most important trait of we Thamizhs.

Nobody now knows why we should shout like this at a pot,
but it is great fun to do. It is one of Thamizh philosophy not to
ask too many 'why's and spoil the sport. Instead do what is generally
done by elders and relatives and friends and be happy.

In fact the same pongal prepared without jaggery is very popular food item in most
hotels in Thamizh Naadu, available most of time of the year but
unfortunately only upto 11 AM, after which meals time takes over.

Remember I said hotel, it is not actually hotel where you can stay and take bath.
This is how street side restauarants are called in Thamizh Naadu.

I should add that pongal is not as tasty as vadakari or brinji (I will later
describe these excellent food items which are unfortunately,
not associated with any festivals).

pioneer food technologists
Pongal is eaten with chutney (which is made by crushing
coconut and green chilly together and then throwing on it the following
mixture: black seed (fried in oil until explosion sound
comes out), white daal - (put in oil until they turn yellow, brown or black
depending on how long you have forgotten to take it out!)).

Actually this process is called 'Thaaliththal', for which I am still searching for
equivalent English word. You know, there are about 18 different words that describe
different types of cooking (masiyal, thuvaiyal, pirattal, varuththal, poriththal
etc) unlike in English there are few only (fry, shallow fry, deep fry...) .

This shows in olden days when food technology was the only important engineering all over

the world, just like computer technology is today, Thamizh people
had done the most extensive research and invented best terminology. What to do?

See, I started with festival description, but mostly concentrated on
describing the food.
This is one of the important values taught to Thamizh people when they are
young - focus on what is really important, all else it trivia.

For example, whatever we may talk or do to make money,
we use that money to buy food only. Even if we buy chair or furniture we sit in it and eat
food only. Even if we buy a TV, we watch it and eat food only. So food
is most important in life.

Proof from Avvaiyar
If you do not agree, let me prove with words from old poets. This is another
accepted ways of proving, approved in Thamizh culture.
Avvaiyar, oldest lady poet of Thamizh nadu (she is
not living nowadays) has sung, 'enchaan udambukku vayirae pradhaanam'. which literally
means that 'in the whole body which is eight-chaan long, the belly is the centre'.

Looks like you are confused. I was also confused what this means but then I found that chan
is not the Chan in Jackie Chan. It is a measurement amount created using your own hand.

Verification of proof
To understand this proverb correctly and verify it, I did the following experiment. You can

also do.
Stretch your thumb-tip and the little finger tip away from each other as far as possible.
Now the distance between them is called a Chan. If you now start from your top of the
head and measuring down one by one until you reach your toe bottom, you will get eight

measures. Some people may get seven and half and some eight and half. That is OK.
If you got more that eight, then you have shrunk the fingers, start again and
keep them stiff. If you get much below that, like 4 or 5, you have counted incorrectly.

Learn mathematics and accountancy.

Again, this cute idea of using a body part which is always built into you, is another
proof of Thamizh people's ingenious, even though approximate, ways of solving world
problems. So most Thamizh people used this method of measuring length except tailors and

I know I have come far away from the Pongal festival, and actually I am too
bored to complete the description today. However, before closing, let me just mention
one more important eatable during pongal. It is karumbu - this is a long purple colored
tube manufactured in fields. Inside it, you have sugar syrup manufactured by karumbu

When pongal is shown to sun god, before eating, this sugar cane is also shown.
To eat it however, you need to first use your tooth the peel away the hard skin,
then you start seeing the juicy part. However you cannot eat it fully like a banana.
The karumbu juice is embedded in fibres. So you should bite a mouthful of the tree stem,
press on your teeth to extract the juice and the remaining chakkai you should immediately
spit out on the road. A little bit of small fibres will of course go in to your
stomach, along with the juice, but dont worry they will come out in a day or two by


Unique greatness of Thamizh karumbu idea
In fact in the whole world, only Thamizhs eat karumbu in this manner - besides, of course, the
African elephants. And even in Thamizh nadu, nowadays machines are used to eat karumbu and
give the juice to us in a tumbler, but you see they are missing the basic point.

The tradition of eating karumbu is yet another reminder to us that all things in the world

look big and beautiful and tough to crack like karumbu. But if you approach with strong

determination and teeth, you can go behind the surface, get rid of useless supporting
details and get the essence.

The real conclusion
More tomorrow.



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