Aladdin’s Magic Lamp and Tamil Saints

Aesop’s Fables, The Thousand One Nights, Decameron Tales, The Canterbury Tales and many more folk tales of Europe have adapted Indian stories. Many of the characters themselves were alien to Europe. For example when Aesop used an Asian animal or bird we knew for sure it was not from Europe.


The art of storytelling has developed to the highest standards in India. In the Forest of Naimisaranya , saints used to gather and listen to stories. Sometimes such sessions lasted for twelve years. Though most of the stories are mythological in nature we come across all the fables, anecdotes and supernatural elements. Putting one story within another is story is also typical Indian. We see all these traits in the above European and Middle Eastern books. They have adapted many stories from the stories of Vikramaditya, Pancha Tantra, Katha Sarit Sagara, Dasa Kumara Charitra and Maha Bharata. Many Western and Eastern scholars have already identified such areas. But not many people knew that they have even copied from the miracle stories of Tamil Saints Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar. Aladdin and the wonderful lamp is part of The Thousand One nights. But it was added by a European author to the Arabic version of 1001 nights just two hundred years ago. He attributed it to a Syrian in the Middle East.Aladdin’s genie performed several miracles for him.


Most of the Hindus know the Yaksha Prasna story of Mahabharata. Yakshas are super natural spirits who occupy the lakes, trees, junctions of the roads and hills. They are supposed to have supernatural powers. In Tamil literature we come across Bhutham, a benevolent natural spirit, in the Pandya inscriptions, Thevaram Hymns, Silappadikaram and other minor Tamil works. The Bhutams or the spirits or the supernatural beings have done marvellous tasks.


Sinnamanur Copper Plates of Pandya King narrated how a Pandya king used the service of Bhutams to repair the tanks and lakes. Irayanar Kalaviyal commentary also gave this story.

Saivite saint Tiru Gnana Sambhandhar was going from one town to another town to worship god in different temples. When he went to Thiruvaduthurai, his father Siva Patha Hruthayar asked him for some financial help to do a yagna (fire ceremony). Then Sambhandhar started singing a hymn.  Immediately a Bhutam appeared before him and left 1000 gold coins in front of the shrine. Sambhandhar sent the treasure to his father.


Another great Tamil great saint Appar was reconverted to Hinduism from Jainism. He prayed for Hindu religious symbols to appear on his body. It is customary to have those symbols marked on the body like tattoos during initiation ceremony. Immediately a Bhutam appeared before him and marked the holy Saiva symbols Tri Sul/Trident and the Bull emblems on his shoulders.

One may wonder who the Bhutams were. Were they some Shiva devotees dressed like short and ugly dwarfs? Or were they some supernatural beings that appeared like bolt from the blue?


The next episode will show that that they were NOT ordinary human beings disguised as Bhutams.

Sundarar, the last of the three Thevaram saints, was receiving paddy and pulses on a regular basis from one of his devotees who was a rich land lord. Because of a big drought the crops failed. So the land lord was very much worried. One day he went to bed skipping his dinner. Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and told him that he had given him paddy for Sundarar. When the landlord woke up, he saw a mountain heap of paddy. When he sent a word to Sundarar about this miracle, Sundarar thought how he was going to carry all the paddy to his home town Tiruvarur which was miles away from the Landlord’s town. Shiva sent his Battalion of Bhutas ( Bhuta Ganam) to shift them to Sundarar’s  place overnight. Since all these things were beyond human comprehension, they wrote everything for future generations.


Sundarar was very good friend of the King of Chera (modern Kerala)  country. When he visited the Chera country, the king gave him enormous gifts. But he lost all those to robbers who were none other than Shiva Bhuta Ganas. When Sundarar prayed to god and sang about it, he got all the robbed goods back.


Silappadikara Sadukka Bhutam

Silappadikaram is a moving Tamil epic. It has a reference to Bhutas in the City Squares. They used to ask questions like the Oracles of Delphi. One of the Bhutas in the city of Pumpuhar ate bad people who were liars, traitors, prostitutes or people who have illicit intimacy. In another place the epic refers to a person beaten to death by the Bhuta because of his lies. The four Bhutas in charge of four castes vacated the city before Kannaki burnt Madurai.

So we can safely conclude that the above episodes lay seeds for all the ghost or spirit stories in the European literature.



ஓதமீள வேலெறிந்து பேராயிரம் கிரது செய்தும்

பூத கணம் பணியாண்டும் புவனதலப் பொதுனீக்கியும்

யானை யாயிர மையமிட்டும் அபரிமித அதிசயங்கள் செய்து

–சின்னமனூர் சிறிய செப்பேடு

வசையில் மாக் கயல் புலிசிலை வடவரை நெற்

றியில் வரைந்தும்

தடம் பூதம் பணிகொண்டு தடாகங்கள் பல திருத்தியும்

அரும்பசி நோய் நாடகற்றி அம்பொற்சித் ரமுயரியும்

—-சின்னமனூர் பெரிய செப்பேடு


தவம் மறைந்து ஒழுகும் தன்மை இலாளர்

அவம் மறைந்து ஒழுகும் அலவற் பெண்டிர்

அறைபோகு அமைச்சர், பிறர்மனை நயப்போர்

பொய்க்கரியாளர், புறங்கூற்றாளர், என்

கைக் கொள் பாசத்துக் கைப்படுவோர்

எனக் காதம் நான்கும் கடுங்குரல் எழுப்பிப்

பூதம் புடைத்து உண்ணும் பூத சதுக்கமும்

–சிலப்பதிகாரம் (இந்திர விழா எடுத்த காதை)



Tulabharam: Indian-Sumerian connection

By S Swaminathan

Sibi in Borobudur (Indonesia)

Tulabharam is a Hindu ritual that has been practised from Dwapara Yuga. Tulabharam means a person weighing himself or herself in a balance and pay in equal weight of gold, fruits or grains to God when one’s prayers are fulfilled. Temples in Tirupati, Guruvayur, Dwaraka, Udupi and several other towns practice such offerings. Recently, Guruvayur temple hit the headlines in newspapers when a businessman from Bangalore gave the temple his weight in gold – 70 kg. Tirupati temple hits the headlines now and then when famous politicians and film stars give something to god measure for measure. This is offered to the gods when their prayers are answered.

The earliest reference to a Tulabharam comes from the Mahabharata, about the great emperor Sibi. He was so famous his name is found in ancient Tamil Sangam literature in four places and later in hundreds of places. He was even praised in Buddhist Jataka stories and Borobudur (Indonesia) sculptures. Emperor Sibi was a just king. Lord Indra and Agni wanted to test him and came in the form of an eagle and a dove. When the dove came to Sibi for protection from the chasing eagle, Sibi was ready to offer anything to save the dove. The eagle asked him to give his flesh measure for measure. Sibi cut himself bit by bit but the pans in the balance were never equal. At last when he himself stood on the pan the Gods appeared in front of him and blessed him. The story is found in other Sanskrit works as well.

The Tamil king who refused to take gold

The worst thing we read in Sangam Tamil literature is the execution of a little girl just because she took a mango fruit from the king’s garden. Tamil poets were so angry that not only they refused to sing about him but also ridiculed him in the Cankam poems. The story is as follows: Nannan was a king who ruled part of Kerala called Poozi Nadu. A mango fell from one of the trees in his garden and it was washed away in the water of a canal. Any little girl or boy who sees a fruit will naturally go for it. So did a little girl in his town. The servants reported this ‘theft’. Immediately Nannan ordered to kill the girl for theft. The whole town rose against him. The girl’s father with the support of the VIP’s of the town met the king and begged to release his daughter. He even came forward to give Nannan 81 elephants as a penalty. Nannan did not budge.

Then her father told him that that he WOULD GIVE GOLD MEASURE FOR MEASURE. But evil Nannan executed the girl refusing to accept the gold. One of the great poets of Tamil Cankam (Tamil Academy) Paranar gave this story in Kurunthokai poem 292. Perunthalai Sathanar who sang a poem long after this incident refused to sing about another king Ilam Vichiko (puram 151) just because he was born in Nannan’s clan. Till this day Nannan was ridiculed as a ‘Murderer of a little girl’. This story shows the practice of Tulabharam in ancient Tamil Nadu. Look at the words – MEASURE FOR MEASURE in gold.

Tulabharam in Silappadikaram

Indian kings used to give sixteen kinds of gifts to Brahmins and poets. The Vijayanagara empire period inscriptions mention Tulabharam as one of them. We have a literary reference to such a practice in the famous Tamil epic Silappadikaram. Cheran Chenguttuvan who went to the holy Himalayas to get a stone for the chaste woman Kannaki washed it in the holy river Ganges and consecrated the statue at a place in modern Kerala. At that time he gifted his body weight of gold to a Brahmin called Matalan. The epic says the king weighed 50 Tulams (not Tola which is only 12 grams).

Periapuranam: Amarneethi Nayanar

Peria Puranam gives the life story of 63 Saivite saints called Nayanmars. Amarneethi Nayanar of Pazaiyarai was one of them. He was running an inn at Thirunalloor. One day a bachelor came to the town and asked Amarneethi to take care of his loin cloth until he comes back from bathing in a nearby river. When he came back the loin cloth was not found at the place he left it. After a frantic search Amarneethi started panicking and offered anything in compensation. The bachelor, who was God himself in disguise, asked him to give some cloth equal in weight to what he was keeping as a spare. When Amarneethi put one loin cloth after loin cloth on the pan, it did not rise even a single inch. Getting ready to sacrifice himself he stood on it. Even then, the scale did not move. When all his family members came and stood on the pan of the balance the pans were equal. God blessed all of them after this Tulabharam.

Krishna Tulabharam

Telegu film of Krishna Tulabharam

The most famous Tulabharam story comes from the life of Lord Krishna. Tamil and Telugu films were made using this story long back. Krishna had several wives including Rukmini, Sathyabhama and Jhambavati.

There was a rivalry between the posh, proud, jealous and fashionable Sathyabhama and simple and innocent Rukmini. The heavenly sage Narada wanted to teach Sathyabhama a lesson. When he met her he mooted a plan to attract Krishna towards her. Sathyabhama fell prey to his clever and cunning plan. The plan was to sell Krishna as a slave to Narada and buy him back with gold. Whoever pays more would win Krishna. Sathyabhama was so confident that she would win hands down because Rukmini was not as rich as her. Innocent Rukmini had to accept this when Krishna himself agreed to be sold. When the scene was set, Sathyabhama brought all her gold and diamond jewellery to buy back Krishna. It could not match Krishna’s weight. Seeing Sathyabhama struggling, the mischievous Narada himself suggested that she borrowed some gold from Rukmini. Pure hearted Rukmini knew that nothing was greater than the Tulsi (Holy Basil) leaves and she put some Tulsi leaves onto the pan after removing all of the jewellery. The problem was thus solved. This story also showed the importance of Tulsi in Hindu worship. Tulsi is one of the most powerful medicinal herbs.

Sumerian Tulabharam

Sumerian culture has a lot of similarities with Indian culture. No one can dismiss them as sheer coincidences. (Please read my article DOUBLE HEADED EAGLE: INDIAN SUMERIAN CONNECTION). Clay tablets from the 13th century BC unearthed at Ugarit give some interesting information about a king. His name is given only in consonants KRT (perhaps Kirta or Kurita rather than Keret). The king lost his brothers and seven wives but had no heir. Praying for a son, he was advised in a dream by their chief god El to sacrifice to Baal then march with his army to Udumu to ask for it’s king’s daughter Hurriya as his wife. On the way he VOWED TO GIVE TWICE HER WEIGHT IN SILVER AND THRICE HER WEIGHT IN GOLD TO THE GODDESS ATHIRAT (AHSERATH) of Tyre, if he were successful. When he got her, he did not fulfil his vow to the god Athirat. The god struck him with an illness. This story of Keret was published in the Dictionary of the Ancient Near East. The story continued with what his wife did later etc. We can even see some similarities in the names with Hindu mythological names Kratu (KRT), Surya (Hurriya), Kreeta and many more. But we could clearly see the practice of Tulabharam to gods and goddesses, offering in silver and gold.