We have all used mnemonics when we were in school – be it to remember the days in a month (using knuckles), remembering rAghu kAlam (Mother SAw Father Wearing THe TUrban Slantingly), the ABC song, and so on. They are a fun way to help us remember complex information.
Indian literary tradition is primarily oral in nature and hence, has leveraged many techniques to remember and pass on complex information. In Sanskrit, the Sutra form of writing is one such mechanism – packed with information in very few syllables.
In Thamizh, young kids are taught Auvaiyar’s Athichoodi (ஆத்திச்சூடி) that I mentioned in the previous post to learn the key Thamizh letters. I never gave it too much thought – it was after all a memorizing mechanism with some moral imbibed in each sentence. However, as I was doing a bit of a background research for my last post, I came across the verses again and was struck by the choice of words used and hence felt it deserved its own post.
Athichoodi has 109 verses in all covering many (but not all) of the Thamizh letter combinations. The more famous of them are the first 13 that represent the vowel-equivalents – உயிரெழுத்து (literary translates to “letters that are the soul (of a sentence)” – much more poetic than ‘vowel’!).
I will cover the first two here and if interested, you can read the rest in the link above.
அறம் செய்ய விரும்பு : aRam seyya virumbu : Strive to be righteous
அறம் (aRam) is an interesting word. The closest English equivalent would be righteousness, but I feel it does not do justice to the word. It can be closely equated to the Sanskrit word dharma. Likely having the same root as அறி (aRi), equivalent to the latin gno, it can have additional connotations around awareness, realization, etc.
While at a first glance the sentence is fairly straightforward – “try to do what is right” – what caught my attention was the word விரும்பு (virumbu) – strive or intend. auvaiyAr could’ve easily stopped by saying அறம் செய் (do the right thing). After all, why should one “try”? Isn’t it obvious that you should always do the right thing?
As the wise grandma she is, I believe auvaiyAr was a lot more subtle here. Doing the right thing is not something that is told, rather it has to be felt. One cannot be instructed to do the right thing, because what is “right” varies. The core of Gita is that dharma is relative. Understanding what is right is a journey one has to take and has to realize for themselves.
But it does not stop there. Even when you understand what is right, you have to have the mindset to do the right thing. It is not just enough to understand dharma – you have to have the mindset to follow through on that knowledge. Maybe that’s why even in Mahabharata, Yudhishtra was the “king of dharma” and not Arjuna, to whom Krishna told the Gita – maybe he didn’t have the mindset!
In three simple words (or just with the addition of one extra word), auvaiyAr paints a masterstroke in providing the gist of the moral – it’s not enough to understand what’s right and even to know critical it is to do right to others – you have to develop a mindset for doing right.
ஆறுவது சினம் : Aruvadhu sinam : Anger subsides
The second one is another stroke of genius. Self-help books or psychiatrists alike suggest that you should never go to bed angry. Similarly business etiquette prescribes that you should never write a letter in anger.
auvaiyAr subtly reminds us of this temporal nature of anger. Anger as an emotion is temporal in nature. We generally tend to remember things that made us happy or sad and can sometimes even re-live that emotion, but it is much harder to re-live anger.
auvaiyAr does not say “don’t be angry” (ஆத்திரம் கொள்ளாதே) – she knows very well that anger as an emotion is something you cannot completely eliminate. She does not even prescribe how to deal with anger. Instead, she simply reminds us of the characteristic of the “anger” emotion. It’s equivalent to understanding the flavor profile of the ingredients you use in a dish as opposed to simply following a recipe to create it. This “teaching how to fish” method helps you understand the nature of anger so it can be applied in very many places than be prescriptive for only one scenario. Once you understand that anger subsides over time, you get maturity and know to keep a calm head or at least wait a while before responding, no matter what the situation is. It just took two words for auvaiyAr to cover what I have blabbered here 🙂
I will leave the post with a parting sutra that I feel applies very well to the current situation in the world – ஒப்புர ஒழுகு (oppura ozhugu – live by adapting)!