Shiva’s Help in Wrestling and Fencing!
There are three interesting stories about wrestling and fencing matches in Tamil Literature. One story is from 2000 year old Sangam literature. But the other two are from recent writings wherein Lord Shiva figured as the saviour. Thiruvilaiadal Puranam was written by Tamil poet Paranjothi in the seventeenth century. It narrates the stories of Lord Shiva’s 64 ‘leelas’ (plays) in and around the Madurai. One of them is about a fencing match that happened over 1000 years ago. Another wrestling match happened just 300 years ago. Thiru U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer, ‘Grandfather of Tamil’ and ‘Re discoverer of Ancient Tamil Manuscripts’, has written one anecdote in his beautiful, lucid Tamil.
A Brahmins fight with a Wrestler:
During the Maharastrian rule of Thanjavur region, Navaratri was celebrated on a grand scale. Descendents of Shivaji ruled from Thanjavur from 17th to 19th centuries (Bhonsle Kingdom). During one such Navaratri event, a wrestler came from North India with his followers. He challenged every one and came out victorious in all the matches. Even the Royal Thanjavur wrestlers were defeated. The King was worried very much. During one such match the king and the general public noticed something unusual. Among the spectators one Brahmin was standing with big bags on his head. But he did not care for the weight and enjoyed betel leaves and nuts. The king and ministers also became curious. Immediately the king sent for him. When his servants approached the Brahmin, he was wondering why the king wanted to see him. He wanted to unload the heavy bags he was carrying. The king’s servants couldn’t help him because it was too heavy. He asked the servants to get out of his way and unloaded them with effortless ease.
When he went to the king, he asked what the load was and what he was doing. He told the king that he was enjoying the game (wrestling) and laughing at them with the paddy bags on his head. The paddy bags were due to the landlord from whom he leased the land. The king asked him what made him to laugh. He gave an explanation in his reply: “I was wondering why the crowd is jubilant for nothing. For him it was not at all wrestling. The king became more curious and asked him for more details. He introduced himself as Kailasa Iyer of Mangudi, where all the Brahmins used to do wrestling. For them, what he saw today was a little boy’s game. The king’s face blossomed like lotus. He asked whether he could fight with the Northern wrestler. The Brahmin said he was ready and he did not need anything like armour. The king pointed out that the Northerner was a non vegetarian and reminded the Brahmin he was only a vegetarian. Immediately Kailasa Iyer replied that what they ate daily was Prasad/offering of Lord Shiva which gave them added power and strength.
He went on the stage and challenged the wrestler. The wrestler first thought he was a novice. But as soon the wrestling started his limbs were caught in the grip of the Brahmin. The wrestler begged to him to leave him alone. The Brahmin told him he would do so provided he go to the king and admit his defeat. The wrestler went straight to the king and said that he was defeated.
The king and the retinue with the defeated wrestler wanted to see Mangudi wrestlers. Kailasa Iyer sent a word to his town. They were preparing the usual dinner for the guests. When the king’s party went to the town they were given the left over rice with pickles. This is called ‘Old Rice’ (Pazaiya Saadham) in Tamil. The previous day cooked rice was soaked in water and used on the following day. On the banana leaf there was sesame seeds. Everyone was wondering what it was for. The Brahmin told them to squeeze it and get the gingelly (Seame seed) oil to mix with the rice. They thought the Brahmin was joking. But the Brahmin asked one of the boys to help them. He went to every leaf and squeezed it easily and the oil was coming in stream. The king was very happy that the Brahmin saved the honour of the Maharashtrian rule. He gave him lot of awards.
( One must read this in U Ve Swaminatha Iyer’s own words. I couldn’t do justice in my abridged translated version).
Fencing in Pandyan Kingdom
Now the story from Thiruvilayadal Puranam: During the reign of Kulothunga Pandyan in Madurai , an old man from another country (region) was teaching fencing. Youths came to him in big numbers to learn the sword fight. One of his students named Siddhan started his own school of fencing. He became very jealous and slowly poached the students from the old man. Old man just prayed to Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of Madurai. Siddhan went to the old man’s house and tried to molest his wife. One day when he tried to grab her, she bolted the door and drove Siddhan out. But she did not say anything to her husband who went to the temple. She prayed to Lord Shiva to help her and her husband.
In the meantime Lord Shiva came in the guise of an old man and asked Siddha to come for a fight to test their strength. As planned they met outside Madurai. A big crowd gathered there. The old man fought valiantly and cut Siddhan’s limbs one by one. While he was doing it, he told Siddhan this was the hand that touched my wife, this was body that molested my wife, these were the eyes that looked at my wife. The Siddhan died of injuries and the old man (Shiva in disguise) disappeared. The crowd ran to his house and asked his wife where her husband was. She told them he had gone to the temple. When the jubilant crowd saw him coming, they congratulated him for the victory. He said that he did not know anything they say. Later he came to know the hardship his wife went through and Shiva’s sword fight. The king who came to know about this, arranged for a procession for the old man and his wife.
Clash of Wrestlers in Sangam Age
I have explained the Arya Porunan fight with Tamil wrestlers in my earlier post: “Did Olympics originate in India?”
9. Arya Porunan Vs Panan
Another tragic tale is about a wrestling contest. Panan, a wrestler from North India visited Tamil Nadu and challenged everyone for a contest. His friend Katti was also a North Indian. Tamil Nadu also had a great name in Wrestling –Kanaiyan. He was friendly with another northerner called Arya Porunan. At first Panan from the North challenged Arya Porunan, a migrant from north settled in Tamil country. Arya Porunan’s body was cut into two pieces. His friend Kanaiyan was shaking in fear and ran away from the scene. Now Panan became more arrogant and went to Uraiyur, the capital of Chola country to challenge Thithan Veliyan. Before entering the town he heard about big celebrations for Thithan Veliyan. People were praising his heroic acts. That gave Panan a big shock and now he was shaking in fear. Panan ran away without entering Uraiyur. Tamil poet Paranar made fun of him in his poems (please read my article The First Tamil Historian-Paranar).
If you want to read more about other wrestling matches during Mahabharata times, please read my earlier post —-DID OLYMPICS ORIGINATE IN INDIA?