Indian Poets’ favourite topic: Instability of Riches,Youth and Body

kuruvi weaver bird

Picture of Bird and nest

Research paper No 1946

Written by London swaminathan

Date: 21 June 2015

Uploaded in London at 18-32

Saints and the Poets of India from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari have sung about one theme with the same tune, from the Bhagavad Gita to Bharati, the great Tamil poet, from Adi Shankara to Tiruvalluvar, the famous Tamil poet, all of them used the same similes, same words and same concerns. It is their most favourite topic. Hundreds of proverbs are available in every Indian language on the theme.

Though we find such references in other cultures Indians are unanimous in urging the public to do some charity before they leave the world and to do something to get out of the cycle of birth and death. This is absent in Abrahamic (Semitic) religions. This shows that the Indians are united in their thought. They are not divided on racial lines as propagated by the vested interests.

Poets of India deal with the instability of youth, riches and the body. Here are some examples from the two ancient languages of India, Sanskrit and its younger sister Tamil:

1.In this world of transmigratory existence, impermanence is the only permanence (Katha Sarit Sagara)

Aasamsaaramjagatyasminnekaa nityaa hyanityataa

2.Who can pity whom with this bubble like body? (Valmiki Ramayana 4-21-3

Kasca kasyaanusocyosti dehesmin budbudopame


Picture of Bubbles

Tamil poem Naladiyar also use the same bubble simile:

Who are there in this wide world who can be compared to those men of profound wisdom, who look upon the body as nothing more than a thing which like the bubbles caused in the falling rain many a time vanishes, and who in consequence determine to rid themselves of the evil of births?

3.Joy and sorrow come and go like a revolving wheel (Yoga Vasistha and Hitopadesa 1-174

Chakravath parivaratante  duhkhaani ca sukhaani ca

This wheel simile is also used by most of the poets. Life is full of ups and downs. It goes up and comes down like a wheel.


Picture of Rainbow

Our body is like a Rainbow

4.Life is like an autumnal cloud (Kahavat Ratnakar)

Jiivanam saradabhravat

The first verse in Naladiyar compared the body to a rainbow. The poet Padumanar says, Knowing that our body is as unstable as the rainbow that appears in the sky, I prostate before you and invoke the God, whose feet do not touch the earth, that the objects in my view may be well accomplished (Hindus believe that the feet of Devas (Extra Terrestrials) never touch the earth.

5.Everything born is transient

Sarvamutpaadi bhanguram

This is in the Bhagavad Gita (2-27)

Jatasya hi dhruvo mrtyur

Dhruvam janma mrtyur ca

For to the one that is born death is certain and certain is birth for the one that has died.

Bird and Nest: Soul and Body

The most famous Tamil poet Tiru valluvar in his Tirukkural, which is considered the Veda in Tamil language, summarises the Hindu teachings beautifully well in 100 couplets in some chapters such as impermanence, penance, virtue, charity, vegetarianism, renunciation, purity, realization, desire and fate.

He says

“Wealth is of a transitory nature; therefore one should seize the opportunity to do charity when one gets it “(Kural 333)

“The affinity of the body and the soul is like is like that of the egg and the chick within. The soul departs from the body even as the chick deserts the egg”. This is in Naladiyar, another Tamil book

Lord Krishna compared this to changing garments (2-22)

“Just as a person casts off the worn out garments and puts on others that are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn out bodies and take on others that are new.”

Katha Upanishad (1-6) gives the same message with corn simile:

“Like corn a mortal ripens and like corn he is born again”.

“The characteristic feature of the world is the transistorines of life. The disappearance today of one who existed yesterday is a common occurrence”. This is in Yaksha Prasna of Mahabharata as well.

IMG_1187 (2)

Picture of Wheel

World is a Drama Theatre

Another famous simile is comparing the world to a drama theatre and the people to actors who leave the stage when the drama is over.

“Great wealth is gradually accumulated like the audience tickling in to witness a show

But its disappearance will be instantaneous, also as it happens after a show”-  -Kural 332

It is in Bhartruhari’s Neeti Satakam

Tamil anthology Purananuru 29 has also referred to the filling up and emptying of the show-arena to bring out the impermanence of the world.

Shakespeare in his Play As You Like it, says

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”.

We come across similar similes in Viveka chudamani 292 and Bhagavad Gita 18-61

Great men think alike!

Do your Good Acts Now! Yudhistira Story!!


Compiled  by London swaminathan

Article No. 1790;  Date 9th April 2015

Uploaded from London at   20–35

What is the most wonderful thing in the world? That was the question put by the Tree Spirit (Yaksha) to Yudhistira. And he answered the question:-

“The fact that people thinking themselves as stable and permanent, in spite of seeing several deaths daily is surprising”.

(Vana Parva, Mahabharata)

But he himself contradicted this at one time which surprised his brothers. There is an interesting story told by Swami Ramdas of Anandashram:-

“Once a poor man approached King Yudhistira, who was also called Dharmaraja, who strictly followed the path of virtue. He asked the king for some help.  Yudhistira said, “Come tomorrow, I will give you what you want”.

Yudhistira’s brother Bhimasena overheard this and at once ran to the place where a huge bell was hanging, and which was rung only when there was something important or in a matter of urgency. Bhimasena straightway rang the bell (Since India has only one culture from Himalayas to Kanyakumari we have a famous bell story in Tamil literature as well. I have given it already where a cow rang the bell at the palace of Manu Neethi Choza)


The ringing of the bell created great commotion everywhere. All the people assembled in front of the bell tower to ascertain the reason. Yudhistira was also surprised. Report came to him that Bhimasena had rung the bell. Bhimasena was called and asked for an explanation.

He replied, “We have gained a great victory today, victory over death for 24 hours. My brother Yudhistira asked a man to come tomorrow, saying that he would give him what he wanted.  It means till tomorrow Yudhistira is not going to die – which is triumph over death. This is a great victory”.

Yudhistira was awakened. He called the poor man back, gave him what he wanted and sent him away without waiting for the next day.


Tamil poet Valluvar wonders,

“The one, who was here yesterday, is no more today and

That is matter for great wonderment, in this world” – Tirukkural 336

Almost all the Indian poets have sung about the impermanence of life. In Tamil Brahmin houses, mothers would warn children if they say, “Mum, I want to eat it tomorrow or Make me this sweet tomorrow”. Mothers would say, “No don’t say that. You have to say if I live tomorrow” (similar to Insah Allah of Muslims= God Willing).

We are not sure if we shall live the next instant; what then is the meaning of all fancies and fantasies? Shakespeare apparently had the same thought in mind when he wrote about the momentariness of life thus:

“We are such stuff

As dreams are made on and our little life is rounded

In a sleep”


Indian Plane Accident

Dr S M Diaz in his commentary on the Tirukkural chapter – “Impermanence of the World” adds a sad story:–

“The circumstances of the gruesome Caravelle aircraft on the night of 11th October 1976 illustrates the point the poet had in mind. A hundred and nine passengers from Mumbai to Chennai were already air borne at 6 pm, when their aircraft was hit by a kite and had to return to base. After several hours a Caravelle aircraft was arranged to take only 89 passengers, leaving behind a protesting 20, because of smaller capacity. As the scheduled pilot did not possess a Caravelle licence, another one who had it, was pulled out of bed.

About 1-30 pm soon after taking off, the engine caught fire and the plane had to crash land at Santacruz airport (Mumbai) itself. All the 89 passengers and 6 members of the crew lost their lives.  The twenty who considered themselves unfairly left out escaped. That is life. The co- pilot who was pulled out of bed never knew he was going to die the next minute. It is as if the poet’s words had come true in a dramatic fashion over this unfortunate incident.

Thoughts such as Valluvar’s must have agitated Dag Hammarskjold (Secretary General of United Nations who died in a plane crash) when he recorded in his Markings published posthumously the following lines :-

“Tomorrow we shall meet

Death and I –

And he shall thrust his sword

Into one who is wide awake

But in the meantime how grievous the memory

Of hors frittered away”

Our bank balance (of life span) is depleted every second. No scientific instrument can regain the lost minute. Every minute before us is a bonus. We have to spend it wisely  — is the message of all the poets of the world from Vyasa to Valluvar, from Shakespeare to UN Secretary General.



Tirukkural, Volume 1, Dr S M Diaz

Stories As tod by Swami Ramdas, B V Bhavan,Mumbai, 1969

Tamil Saint Pattinathar’s Warning

sadhu shank

By London Swaminathan
Post No. 955 4th April 2014.

Tamil saint Pattinathar warns us about the impermanence of life. He reminds us of the ‘three important chanks’ our family uses. Life is short and we must do everything good within that short period.

Pattinathar’s life was full of very interesting events. He lived in the tenth century CE. He was a rich man of a port city called Kaveri Poom Pattinam, also known as Pumpuhar in Tamil Nadu. He got his name from this city meaning ‘City man’ (Pattinathar). He was married but had no issue. So they took a child that was left uncared for in a garden at Tiruvidaimarudur. The child was given the name Marudaipiran. As he grew up, one day he came to Pattinathar’s wife, his foster mother, and asked her to give a parcel to Pattinathar. Later he disappeared. It was the box that changed his life.

When Pattinathar came home and opened the box with all curiosity he found an eyeless needle and a palm leaf on which a conundrum had been written. He considered that was a ‘special delivery parcel with a special message’ for him from Lord Shiva. Immediately he distributed his vast wealth to the poor and became an ascetic. He wandered far and wide and came to Tiruvotriyur to spend his last days. His thought provoking hymns are well known to Tamils.

lot women conch
In one of his poems he warns us that we must remember three sounds from the blowing conches at family events:

The first of the chanks feeds with milk
The second shackles us with women of dense locks;
The third is sounded to announce our death.
How much, Oh, how much is the weal of worldly life?

bengali blow

(Translation from Tamil into English was done by Sekkizar Adippodi Dr T N Ramchandran of Thanjavur).
The custom of blowing conches in the weddings was practised by all the Hindus until a few centuries ago. Now Bengalis only use Chanks (conches) in all the ceremonies. Andal, a famous Tamil poetess, mentioned about blowing conches in the Tamil weddings 1300 years ago. Hindu mothers used conches (chanks) to feed the babies with milk. Now this practise is also dropped after the introduction of feeding bottles. Just to attract the attention of the child, they used to play blowing chanks in the olden days. Blowing conches is practised during the funeral procession in certain parts of the country even today.

So the last of the three sounds will be heard only by family members, because it will be our last journey.


A V Subramania Aiyar, in his book ‘The Poetry of Tamil Siddhas’, compared him with another Siddha (enlightened soul) Sivavakkiyar. He aptly commented about Pattinathar’s poems:-

“As a Saiva mystic and saint Pattinathar has been held in great veneration. His poems are happily free from the violent denunciations of idol worship, temples, rituals, caste, Vedas, Agamas etc. which Sivavakkiyar indulges in. He has shown an excessive desire to extol the virtues of unqualified asceticism and Yogic mysticism in language that that can be understood by the masses. He shows leanings towards Bhakti in his later poems. As a poet he is far superior to Sivavakkiyar. Pattinathar has a greater command over imagery and language. His poetry has sweetness, simplicity and emotional appeal. He has sung of his religion and philosophy with freedom, vigour and breadth of outlook. He has good mastery over form, especially Ahaval metre, in which some of his most brilliant poetical passages have been written. Pattinathar is the most widely read Siddhar in the Tamil language”.

conch 4

I would recommend the following two English books for non Tamil readers:
The Poetry and the Philosophy of THE TAMIL SIDDHAS by A.V. Subramania Aiyar, published by S.Mahadevan, Tirunelvely, Year 1957; St.PATTINATHAR, Tamil Text with English Translation by Sekkizhaar Adippodi T N Ramachandran, International Institute of Saiva Siddhanta Research, Dharmapura Adhinam, Dharmapuram, MAYILADUTHURAI 609 001, Year 1990.

Polynesian Man Blowing Conch Shell