Yavana (Mlecchas) Mystery in Tamil Literature

yavana in bharhut
Yavana sculpture in Barhut, 2nd Century BCE

Research article by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1206; Dated:–31 July 2014.

1.A Tamil King poured oil on the heads of Yavanas and tied their hands at the back! We don’t know whether the Yavanas mentioned here are Greeks or Romans or Arabs! We knew for sure Romans did a roaring business at the time from Italy.
2.Another Tamil king ruled Yavana territory! We don’t know when and where!
3.Yavanas are described as men of harsh words by Ilango and a Brahmin poet Kumattur Kannanar and Mlechchas and Turks by commentator Adiyarkkunallar.
4.Ancestors of Tamil Chozas fought with “Black Yavana” during Lord Krishna’s time!
5.Vedic literature (Satapatha Brahmana) also described some people speaking Mlechcha language! Were they people of Middle East origin? Or Egyptians? Foreign “scholars” who did not know Tamil references made a mountain out of mole in the Indus and Vedic research!!! Those “scholars” conveniently hidden the Atharva Veda words in Sumerian literature ! ( Aligi, Viligi, Tiamat, Sumuka, Sammata etc)

Now let us go into the details:
VRR Dikshitar in his book ‘Cilappatikaram’ (1939) says,
“It would not be out of place to refer here to the Yavana nadu and the Malva region which find mention in the Cilappatikaram. According to the Patikam of the second ten of the Patirruppattu, Imayavarampan put the Yavanas to disgrace by pouring ghee over their heads.

The Yavanas are mentioned frequently in Tamil literature including the Cilappatikaram (Cantos 29, 28)”

While describing the lively Pumpukar, the port city of the Choza kingdom, Poet Ilango says, “The sun shone over the open terraces, over the warehouses near the harbour, and over the turrets with air holes, looking like the eyes of the deer. In different places of Pukar the onlooker’s attention was arrested by the SIGHT OF THE ABODES OF THE YAVANAS, whose prosperity was never on the wane” (Indiraviza Uretutta Katai).
Atiyarkkunallar, the commentator of Silappadikaram, interprets Yavanas as Milechas.

(National poet Subramanya Bharati used the word Milecha for iconoclastic foreign Muslim rulers of India; Freedom Fighters criticized the British Rulers as Mlechas)

Roman Lamp (Tamil literature refers to Yavana lamps)

Yavana in Puranas
Mucukunta was an ancient king, who the Chozas claim as their ancestor. Later inscriptions and Tamil literature claim Chozas belong to the solar race. Sibi, who ruled North West India was also an ancestor of the Chozas according to Sangam Tamil literature (Purananuru). Mucukunda was one of the three sons of Mandhata and Bindumati. His brothers are Purukutsa and Amabarisa (Bhagavatham Purana Book 9, Chapter 6, Stanza 38).

Hearing that Kalayavana (Black Yavana) was carrying destruction to the Devas, Mucukunda entered the cave, the residence of the Yavana, and slew him, to the wonder of the Devas. Indra offered him a place of honour in the heaven. But Mucukunda wanted to go on sleeping in that cave undisturbed for an unlimited period. Krishna blessed him and later he undertook penance at Badari Asrama. According to another version, Krishna was chased by a Black Yavana and Krishna tricked Kalayavana to enter the cave. Kalayavana mistook Mucukunda for Krishna and slapped him. Musukunda burnt him alive by his look.

My comments
Kala Yavanas are Arabs or people from the Middle East. Any foreigner that came from the west was a Yavana in Hindu literature. It looks like Krishna had to tackle lot of naval attacks from the sea pirates and Egyptians and the Arabs. I have explained it in my Post “Hindu Gods’ Naval Attacks” (Posted on 25th April 2012). Vedic Hindus had a mighty navy. Rig Veda says that there were 100 oared ships (RV1-116-5; 1-97-7).
Vedic people had contacts with Sumerians and Iranians. See Kanchi Pramacharya’s talk about Zoroaster going from Saurashtra/Gujarat to Iran.

Lamps from Greece (Ionian=Yavana)

Yavanas in Madurai
While describing the City of Madurai, capital of Pandya kingdom, poet Ilango says, “Kovalan then went through a street above a narrow passage constructed to admit elephants, leading from the moat with its vast expanse of sparklng waters, encircled by a well guarded defence forest. Unsuspected by the RANKS OF THE BEST OF THE YAVANA SWORDSMEN who guarded it, he next entered the forest gate, where flags waved in the westerly breeze (Urkan Katai, Silappadikaram).

Tamil commentator Adiyarkkunallar described them as Turks. Lot of Roman coins are found throughout Tamil Nadu. So there is definite evidence to show that Romans from Italy had trade relationship with the Tamils. After Alexander’s invasion North West India was ruled by Indo- Greeks. All the people from the West were called Yavanas.

Tamils Ruled Barbarous Yavana Country!
Madalan, the great Brahmin, who dominates in the Tamil epic Silappadikaram speaks about the mighty naval power of the Cheras. Unfortunately Tamils don’t have any details about these attacks. Madalan in ‘Natukar Katai’ of Silappadikaram says,

“With your army of lofty chariots, you fought a fierce battle on the sea pursuing the enemy for a long distance.

“Among your ancestors in this city one king distinguished himself by destroying the Katampu Tree of the seas.

“Another Cera penetrated the golden region of the high mountain in the fertile kingdom of the barbarous Yavanas.

FR: Paintings
(Tamils who used open lamps probably started using closed lamps from the West for safety.

My Comments
Katampu in the sea is a symbolic language. Tamil Lord Muruga (Skanda/ Kartikeya) also did this. Mango tree and Katampa tree were totem symbols of the pirate communities. They meant the destruction of the sea pirates ( I have explained it in my Post two years ago : “Hindu Gods’ Naval Attacks” (Posted on 25th April 2012).
Ramachandra Dikshitar in his translation of Cilappatikaram (1939 publication) says,” The Yavana country must have been somewhere in the Indus region. It is worthy of note that the learned author characterises them as MEN OF BARBAROUS WORDS. According to the Sanskritists they spoke the Mlecha tongue. Their kingdom is mentioned among the northern countries in Brahmanda Purana (chapter 16)

I think Dikshitar is wrong here because Madalan says “golden region of the high mountain in the fertile kingdom of the barbarous Yavanas”. It will remain a mystery till we find a place on the high mountain ruled by Yavanas. We have to consider Arabs, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as Yavanas.

Alain Danielou in his translation Shilappadikaram (1965 ppublication) translated Yavanas as Greeks.
Ilango and the Brahmin poet Kumattur Kannanar used the epithet “Vansol” Yavana, meaning men of unmelodious, unharmonious, jarring, cruel, barbarous, ear piercing speech.

Pavai Vilakku in Tamil culture

It is very interesting that the same description is in the Satapatha Brahmana about men of barbaric speech. Supporters of Aryan – Dravidian Racist theory made a mountain out of a mole. Indus researchers “invented” new meaning! Tamils were also described as men of noisy language by their neighbours Telugus (Arava= noisy land= Tamil country). Hebrew Bible used the word ARAVA for the Arabs. Parliament member Seth Govinda Das criticized Tamil as language of big noise. “Put some stones in a tin and shake it and that is Tamil”, he said. For anyone, another language is a harsh one! So Ilango and Kmattur Kannanar called Yavanas as speakers of harsh words=van sol in Tamil! Grreks called all Non-Greeks as barbarians!!

To cut it short, Tamils are yet to find which Sera king ruled which Yavana territory! Who were the Yavanas punished by the mighty Chera King Imayavarampan Neduncheralathan?

Yavana in Sangam Literature
Yavana is a Sanskrit word. According to Tolkappiam, Tamil Grammar, no Tamil word can begin with the letter “Ya”. Yavana occurs in at least five places in Sangam Tamil literature:

Aka.149-9; Nedu.101; Pura. 56-18; Peru. 316; Mullai.61

The chief Sera port was Musiri, “The flourishing town of Musiri, where the large beautiful ships of the Yavanas which bring gold and take pepper, come disturbing the white foam of River Periyaru of Seras”.
Here Yavanas means Romans, not Greeks. Pepper was called ‘Yavanapriya’ in Sanskrit.
Yavanas also meant good architects, technical men in the later age. Yavana Thaksa (Yavana Thachar in Tamil) meant good architects or builders. Jeevaka Chintamani, one of the five Tamil epics, speaks about the mechanical devices invented by the Yavanas which were installed in the forts.
Sanagam work Perumpanatrupadai described a Yavana boat with a lamp. Tamil kings employed Yavanas as bodyguards and gate keepers according to other Sangam works.
Conclusion: Yavana means anyone from the West. People from the West were giving trouble to India from the Vedic days and they were called Mlechchas speaking a different language of harsh sound. Black Yavana who fought with Krishna may be people from the Middle East. It was easy for them to attack Dwaraka in Gujarat. Sangam literature used the term for the Romans. About Chera kings’ encounters with the Yavanas, we don’t have much information.

Mahabharata says Yavanas were serving in the army of Indian kings (2-50-18). The term Yavana is used by Manu in his Smriti (10-44). Manu says that those Kshatriyas (warrior class) who failed to perform the rituals sunk in the world to the rank of the servants and Dravidas and Yavanas were included in the list.


Yavanas in Vedic Days

Vedic King Turvasu is linked to the Yavanas in later literature. Vedic literature says that Yadus and Turvasus ruled distant lands. They may be linked to Jews and other peoples of West Asia. There was a king by name Yavanashwa in Mahabharata. But in all the references in the old Hindu literature they were shown as part of Hindu society who fell from their high status. The five Vedic tribes came from king Yayati. Two kings Yadu and Turvasu were born to Devayani and Yayati where as other three Druhyu, Puru and Anu were born to Yayati and Sharmishta.

Mahabharata called several kings who fought on the side of the Kauravas as Mlechas. They may be Yavanas from far off places – that is beyond the borders of holy Bharat.

Please read my earlier articles:
MLECHA: Most Misunderstood Word (Posted on 3 September,2012)
AYAS and ASVA : Most Misunderstood Words (Posted on 3 September,2012)
Both these articles are posted in Tamil as well.

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