Venkai Tree is Tiger: Kalidasa and Tamil Poets Imagine! (Post No.3884)


Written by London Swaminathan


Date: 6 May 2017


Time uploaded in London: 21-05


Post No. 3884


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.





The word ‘Venkai; means a Venaki tree and a tiger in Tamil. The surprising thing about the word is that it is called Venga (benga) even in Western Nepal. So, my favourite hypothesis that Sanskrit and Tamil were the original languages of the world and you can trace any old word to these two languages – is confirmed once again.


My next favourite hypothesis that Kalidasa lived well before Tamil Sangam age is confirmed once again in this Venkai-Asana tree (Pterocarpus marsupium) comparison. I have been showing that over 200 similes of Kalidasa were used by 400+ Sangam Tamil poets


The Venkai tree and its surrounding ground with its flowers looks like a tiger according to Kalidasa and Sangam Tamil poets. Tamil poets are very familiar with this image. We have got lot of this images in Sangam Literature.

The Venaki tree in the field blossoms in the season for marriages of olden days and for the harvest of the fields. So, it has some significance in the life of the villagers. One of the Tamil poets says “One day in her usual overheard speech, the lady companion enquires the heroine why her mother prayed that the Venkai tree should blossom and immediately looked at her face. She thereby suggests to the overhearing hero that her mother may thereafter restrain her daughter from going to the field and thereby indirectly urges him to marry soon” (Natrinai 206)


Here are some scenes from Sangam Tamil Poetry:


“A block of rock covered with Venaki blossoms looks like the coloured spots and stripes on the tiger’s skin (Kuruntokai.202)

“The elephant hears the blended notes of the musical notes of the musicians and mistakes it for the roar of a tiger, gets angry, attacks a blossomed Venkai tree, tears off one of its branches and wearing it on its head makes a roar that echoes in the mountain rocks” (Pathitrupathu -41)


“There is a picture of an impenetrably dark night on a mountain in which the tiger springing from its lair attacks and kills an elephant, drinks its blood and cleans its mouth rubbing it against the trunk of the Venkai” (Natrinai 158)


The name Venkai denotes the tiger (also the tree) and it is a wondrous sight that the blossomed tree resembles the tiger with its dots and stripes Purananuru 202. This fact has attracted the imagination of many poets of the age and they have described the elephants attacking with vengeance or running away from the tree mistaken for a tiger (Pura.202, Kali.38, Aka.12). Poet Senkannanar has put this image in a nutshell in the three words ‘Venakiyum puli Iindrana’ meaning that the tree has given birth to a (blossomed) tiger (Natrinai 389)



The poet, Netuven Nilavinar (Kuruntokai 47), in an apostrophe to the moon, says,

“The lady companion addresses the moon and states that it is not favourable to the hero’s coming to her at night, since it is so bright that even the rock whereon the Venaki flowers have fallen and spread appears bright and clear and looks like a tiger cub, and may, in her opinion, frighten him when he comes that way.”


“An angry elephant attacks a Venkai tree and destroys its branches (thinking it as a tiger); the branches are not broken but only bent to the ground; the branches continue to blossom and the girls find it easy to pluck the flowers standing on the ground (Kuru.208). This picture is in the utterance of the heroine suggesting the companion that the hero has caused her untold sufferings but has been merciful enough to make her still live without perishing and undergo some more sufferings by others”.


Asana (Venkai in Tamil) Tree in Kalidasa

In the Raghu Vamsa (9-63), the spotted tigers rushing onward appeared like the branches of Asana Tree, full of reddish yellow blossoms, broken and blown off by the wind, says Kalidasa.


फुल्लासनाग्रविटपानिव वायुरुग्णान्।
शिक्षाविशेषलघुहस्ततया निमेषा
त्तुणीचकार शरपुरितवक्त्ररन्ध्रान्॥ ९-६३

phullāsanāgraviṭapāniva vāyurugṇān |
śikṣāviśeṣalaghuhastatayā nimeṣā
ttuṇīcakāra śarapuritavaktrarandhrān || 9-63


In consequence of the agility of the hand from long practice, the dauntless king in the twinkling of the eye turned the wide opened mouth of tigers into quivers, as it were, of those tigers that rushed upon him from their caves, by filling their mouth cavities with arrows, and made them resemble the blossom laden branches of the Asana trees broken down by the wind. [9-63]


Both the tigers and Asana tree branches with flowers have a colourful look.


Though I have come across only one reference to Tiger and the tree in Raghuvamsa, there are references to the tree in his other works.



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