Whales in Kalidasa’s work and Tamil Sangam Literature (Post No.3427)

Research Article Written by London swaminathan


Date: 7 December 2016


Time uploaded in London: 16-43


Post No.3427



Pictures are taken from different sources; thanks.


contact; swami_48@yahoo.com


(Tamil version of this research article is also posted)


Kalidasa, India’s greatest poet, who lived in the first century BCE talks about whales in his work Raghuvamsa. Kalidasa was one of the geniuses of the world. He is well versed in all the subjects from astronomy to zoology. In Raghuvamsa, he describes the whale and ‘the water’ that was coming out of its holes on the head.


Following is the translation of Raghuvamsa 13-10

“These whales with these wide opened mouths take in the water along with the marine creatures into them, and holding their jaws together, jet out water through the blowholes on their heads”.

Science fact: Though it is not water but the hot air breathed out, it sprinkles water during this exhaling. The hot air thrown out or exhaled condescends and sprinkles water.


Tamil poets who lived 200 years ago also repeats what Kalidasa said in his Raghuvamsa. There are two verses in Natrinai (132 and 291) where in we come across whales and sperm whale that contains ‘oil’ in its head.


An anonymous poet says in verse 132: “ Whole town is sleeping; there is no one who is awake. The mouthed whale gushes out water. When the cold and noisy wind blows into the streets there is drizzling.  The water comes into the house through the holes in the door. Even the sharp toothed dog shivers.”


In verse 291, famous poet Kapilar says:-The water birds stand in the muddy waters like the soldiers of a king’s army to eat the fat/oil headed (Sperm) whale.(Probably the whale got  stranded in the muddy water).


Another anonymous poem found in Natrinai 175 says, “the fishermen light the lamps made up of oyster shells, filled with fish oil in the coastal areas.

Picture of a stranded Sperm Whale

These poems show clearly that the ancient Indians know about the whales. the reference is in both Tamil and Sanskrit

texts. Their belief was also the same. They did believe the whales threw out water through their blow holes. They used fish oil as a fuel.


South Indian coasts were frequented by whales and dolphins 2000 years ago. now we see only stranded whales.


Big Whale Bone

Tamil poet Kamban who made Ramayana in Tamil also spoke about whale bone on the sea shore (Kishkinda Canto, Dundhubi section). When Lord Rama saw a big and dry bone on the sea shore, he asked Sugreeva what it was. He wondered whether it was a skeleton of a whale. But Sugreeva explained it was the skeleton of Dundhubi killed by Vali.


From this we come to know it was not uncommon to see a whale bone intact on the sea shore.


Makara and Sura in Tamil and Sanskrit:

Ancient poets used words like Makara and Sura for all the aquatic creatures (shark fish) and mammals (whales and dolphins) with a strangely shaped mouth. But to differentiate it from one another, they added some pre-fix. Old commentators due to lack of knowledge in Biology, interpreted every big creature as big fish.





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