"Your son has died'', the messenger spilled the sad news. "Is that
so? How did he die? Where did he receive the fatal wound?", the mother
"From what I heard, he was fleeing from the battle field and one of
the enemy's spears pierced through his back", murmured the messenger.
"A fleeing son; and a spear in his back! What a shame?", fumed the
mother, her sadness turning into anger.
"I have lost my father, brother and husband in the on-going battle
and nothing is worse for me than to lose my son. What I'm ashamed is
that his fatal wound was in his back", the Tamil mother screamed. The
messenger was dumbfounded.
"Now I'll leave for the battle field to search for my son. If your
words prove to be true, I'll mutilate the breasts which fed him with
life" thundered the mother.
And, after a while, there she was in the middle of the battle field,
turning the bodies of soldiers, horses and elephants in search of
her departed son.
Had he brought fame for his family or shame for his mother ? That was
the question. Finally she located his smiling, youthful face, spattered
Anxiously, she turned his body to look for the fatal wound. There was
no wound in his back. The messenger was wrong.
Her son had received the fatal wound right in the centre of the
chest. The mother's eyes shed tears. Those tears told the story of a
heroism that she had fed him with the milk from her breasts.
What I have set out here, has been told many times by Tamil poets in
diverse forms. The story has also been enacted in numerous Tamil folk plays,
in the theater, in dance dramas and even in Tamil movies. Though the poets
and actors may have changed, the central theme remained the same....
To the international audience, Professor. K. Kailasapathy succinctly
summarised these themes in his 1968 classic work,
Poetry (Oxford, Clarendon Press)...
From the poets who lived in the Sangam Age (two millenia ago) to our
Subramanya Bharathi and
Kannadasan, Tamils have extolled the virtue of heroism in the battle
poetry is all about the bravery and chivalry of the Tamil people. The flags
of Chera (Flower),
and Pandiya (Fish) were considered as venerable objects and it was the duty
of Tamil youth to safeguard the dignity of these flags. Their energies were
harnessed to raise these flags in the far corners of India, Eelam and South
East Asia. Verses of great Tamil poets like
and Jeyam Kondaar praised the virtues of fighting for a noble cause.
In one of his popular songs for children (Papaa Pattu),
Bharathi provides the following advice:
expressed similar sentiments in a lyric for one of the MGR's great
movies, Mannnathi Mannan in mid 1950s:
In our times, it was
MGR himself, by
his more than 120-odd movies spanning four decades (1936-76), who became a
role model for many young Tamils in Tamil Nadu. MGR was well versed in the
traditional martial arts of Tamils such as horse-riding, fencing, wrestling
and silambam. ... As one journalist put it:
"He created the image of an action hero who used his fists more than
his tongue. He showed the masses through his films the importance of
fighting to help themselves." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 4