The beggar’s pot

Sometimes a poem does not need to have complex structure, use great similes, or use fancy words to be memorable and deep. What matters to a good story or a moral is in having the knowledge of who it is being told to and how it is conveyed.

Siddhars – the mystics or yogis in the region of Tamilnadu – were known for the simplicity of the words in their poems that get to the heart of the message without making a fuss. A great example of a poem that contains simple words but yet is laden with meaning is a very famous one by KaduveLi Siddhar (கடுவெளி சித்தர்). It’s quite possible that many may not know the author but can instantly recognize the poem:

நந்தவனத்தில் ஓர் ஆண்டி – அவன்
நாலாறு மாதமாய் குயவனை வேண்டி
கொண்டு வந்தான் ஒரு தோண்டி – மெத்தக்
கூத்தாடி கூத்தாடி போட்டு உடைத்தாண்டி

Transliteration:
nandavanathil Or aandi – avan
naalaaru maathamaai kuyavanai vEndi
kondu vanthaan oru thOndi – metha
koothaadi koothaadi pOttudaithaandi.

Translation:
There once was a beggar in a garden.
He begged a potter for four and six months (ten months) for a begging pot.
When he finally got it, he became so ecstatic that he danced with it and smashed it into pieces.

The poem itself was likely introduced to us as part of the school curriculum and the reason why it stood out in our minds was for all the reasons above – it was simple in the midst of other complex poems, easy to understand, and funny.

In their seminal book Made to Stick, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath identify six elements of a message that will stick:

S – Simple
U – Unexpected
C – Concrete
C – Credible
E – Emotional
S – (has a) Story

In four lines, you can see that the poet has brought in all these elements without breaking a sweat!

At a first glance, it seems to be a silly song. However, going beneath the surface, it starts revealing the poet’s insight.

Of the various births, human birth is considered significant due to our ability to think strategically and beyond survival. Poets galore have extolled the virtue of human birth (அரிது அரிது மானிடராய் பிறத்தல் அரிது). The devout say that a human birth is all the more important as it is the one that knows how to pray to a God and hopefully get out of the cycle of birth and death. In Hinduism, one has to accumulate enough goodwill (புண்ணியம் – punniyam) to get to this human birth.

So, one has to put in a lot of effort before getting to the stage of becoming a human. After praying God (the kuyavan – potter – or in this case, the Creator) a lot and thus eventually gestating for ten months and finally getting into this world (nandavanam – the garden), we are thus born. When we do so, we come into this world without any possessions (an aandi refers to a beggar or more precisely, one who does not have any possessions for oneself and lives meagerly by begging for basic needs).

However, instead of relishing such a rare birth (thOndi – or the beggar’s vessel – here it refers to the human body) and using it for a higher purpose (either praying for moksha – salvation – or even doing service to humanity or the benefit of the earth as a whole), we forget all the hard work, end up getting mired in materialistic activities, incessantly seeking wealth, glory, and other temporal pleasures, and waste away this precious life (thus breaking the vessel)!

Essence of Hinduism in four simple lines masked in a silly story. As Einstein said, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”! Obviously, KaduveLi Siddhar knew what he was talking about!

Of the many siddhars, not much seems to be known about KaduveLi Siddhar. His poetic repertoire is also small – less than forty songs. Almost all other songs focus on tactical morals – good habits to follow and bad habits to break – somewhat like an aathichoodi from auvaiyAr we saw earlier.

There was another poem that grabbed our attention, which especially seems to be relevant in our current state of affairs:

காசிக்கு ஓடினில் வினை போமோ – அந்தக்
கங்கை ஆடில் கதி தானும் உண்டாமோ
பேச முன் கண்மங்கள் சாமோ – பல
பேதம் பிறப்பது போற்றினும் போமோ

Transliteration:
kaasikku Odinil vinai pOmO – andha
gangai aadil gathi thaanum uNdaamO
pEsa mun kaNmangal saamo – pala
bEdam piRappathu pOtRinum pOmO

Translation:

Will going to Kaasi change one’s fate?
Or can one wash away their sins by taking a dip in Ganga?
Can one simply confess their sins to get rid of them?
Or can one get rid of the complexes built inside by simply paying lip service to equality?

Many religions promote some form of an ‘escape hatch’ to sidestep our wrong doings – be it a confession box in Christianity or vary many parikaarams (பரிகாரம்) that are in Hinduism. However, the core philosophy in Hinduism simply warns that there is no escaping karma and that it will manifest itself eventually.

In the song, the siddhar eloquently describes the futility of such superficial activities that are undertaken without any deep sincerity – the sincerity of attempting to understand one’s true self. We build so many complexes in our life – superiority, inferiority, racism, casteism, linguism, nationalism, and many other -isms. If we don’t understand our true inner self and address the core of our thought process that gives rise to such thoughts, doing any of the actions above or sharing Facebook likes on equality will not make a difference and we are simply fooling ourselves.

So, how does one know oneself?

உள்ளாக நால்வகை கோட்டை – பகை
ஓட பிடித்திட்டால் ஆளலாம் நாட்டை
கள்ள புலன் என்னும் காட்டை – வெட்டி
கனலிட்டு எரித்திட்டால் காணலாம் வீட்டை

Transliteration:
uLLaaga naalvagai kOttai – pagai
Oda pidithittaal aaLalaam naattai
kaLLa pulan ennum kaattai – vetti
kanalittu eritthittaal kaaNalaam veettai

Translation:
There are four big and tall walls we have built within us.
If we break them and chase away those enemies who have built the walls, we can conquer our self (the country).
Our five senses are like an untamed jungle growth.
If we burn it (through meditation) and clear the path, we will realize our true self.

There seem to be some differing opinions on what the “four walls” refer to. In the book – Pathinettu Siddhargalin mukkiya paadalgaLum viLakkangaLum (Songs of 18 Siddhars and their explanation) by Thamizhpiriyan – they are explained as kama (lust), krodha (hatred), madha (stubbornness), mAtsarya (pride). However, this doesn’t fit, as there are two more that are typically included (moha – jealousy, and lobha – greed).

A more fitting explanation seems to be from Mr. Durgadasan in this article, where he explains the four walls as four of the five shields (koshas) described in Vedanta, namely

annamaya kOsha – Food / Survival
prAnamaya kOsha – Energy / Action
manOmaya kOsha – Mind / Emotion
vijnAnamaya kOsha – Intellect / Rational thinking
Anandamaya kOsha – Pure bliss

One essentially has to break these shields of basic survival, daily work for sustenance (samsaara), emotional attachment, and intellectual stimulation and go beyond these to realize pure bliss, which is the last shield that is closest to the soul. Interestingly, the kOshas are strikingly similar to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs that is very popular in Western literature and quoted copiously in behavioral psychology and books on self and organizational motivation.

450px-maslowshierarchyofneeds-svg
Image Source: Wikipedia

Sounds simple to do, doesn’t it?!

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One thought on “The beggar’s pot

  1. Hi Sathya,

    This is Prabhu from R. Prabhu’s Notes that you had recently posted a comment. You have an amazing blog, the content you have posted are quite rare and treasured. Believe me or not, these are such content, that could be read only by those destined, especially those bestowed by the Siddhars. Understanding them is even a greater gift.

    Keep the work going! Good effort!

    Regards

    Like

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