The living oral ballads in Tulu language known popularly as paDdanas are unwritten ancient documents that evolved along with the Tulu people, culture and language over a prolonged period of time. They not only reflect the poetic emotive talents of our ancestors, but are also mirrors of the changing culture, values and ethos of our people.
But the paDdanas that survived amidst us at present are the intensely evolved versions. Since paDdana are orally transmitted folk ballads generation to generation, it is logical to expect modifications over the years reflective of the environmental perspectives of the person reciting it. In the current digital parlance, they can be compared to the Microsoft Windows Vista or the Adobe Photoshop CS3. I take the liberty of this odd comparison just to convince you the difficulty of visualizing and reconstructing the earliest version of paD-danas using the current versions. And given the prolonged evolutionary history Tulu people incurred the oldest, original form of any paDdana is nebulous to decipher. Still there are some glowing indices in the current versions of paDdanas that through light on their antiquity and overall Tulu cultural evolution.
Ancient Siri paDdana
The evidences discussed below permit me to propose that the original version of the Tulu paDdana on Siri may have been orally composed during ca. 300 BC or earlier.
The first proof: King Ashoka’s Girnar rock edict in Pali language (ca.300 BC) describes a southern State of ‘Satiyaputto’ that can be translated as Satyapura. The name of the palace in the Siri paDdana, Satyanapura is akin to Satyapura or Sati(y)aputto.
Now there are no towns having the name of Satyanapura in Tulunadu. However, it can be presumed that ‘Satyanapura’(.>Satiaputo) was a prominent Tulu City-State during the period of King Ashoka.
2.Siri -A Pali word
Second proof of the antiquity of Siri is the word itself. Siri is the heroine of the Siri paDdana. The name Siri is not commonly used name for present day Tulu females.
The word ‘Siri’ exists in Tulu language and it means tender leafy shoot of a plant like coconut palm. In Pali language the word Siri represented the Godess of luck.There is some parallelism between the two meanings: (1) tender shoot (Tulu) and (2).luck (Pali). The growth of tender shoot (Siri) is perceived as lucky.
Normally, we are taught in schools that the word ‘Siri’ is the derivative (‘tatbhava’) of the Sanskrit word ‘Shri’. But this is questionable and the truth may be the other way round, since the mythology of Lord Vishnu and his wife Shri (Lakshmi) evolved as late as 500BC or still later. The Pali and related Prakrit language existed before Vedas and it can be considered logically that Sanskrit (= refined) was a refined, evolved language after the older Prakrit (=natural) language. Since, it can be established that religious cults have borrowed from each other, it can be proposed that ‘Siri’, the Godess of luck of early Buddhist period, eventually evolved into ‘Shri’, the Godess of wealth.
To summarize: Siri.> Shri.
Thus the Pali word ‘Siri’ in the said PaDdana displays unmistakable shadows of early Buddhism in the early Tulu history dating back to ca.300 BC.
3. Ancient cult of Possession.
Third proof for the antiquity of the original Siri paDdana is the persistence of the ancient cult of possession attached to the Siri festivals.
The annual celebration of Siri festival is quite unique and unlike other kola, nema etc celebrations associated with other Tulu spirits. It is a celebration of the ancient art of trances or possessions. This cult was prevalent during the early history of the southern India and is well documented in Tamil Sangham literature that is estimated to have been compiled between the periods ca.200BC to 200AD.George Hart discusses some aspects of the cult of possessions described in Sangham literature.
4. Chenne mane: An ancient game
Peter Claus reports that Chenne Mane, a rural game associated with the Siri cult (or Mancala game as known in other parts of India and Srilanka) is known to have been played by rural folks since ca.200 BC. The game is prevalent in parts of Africa and Middle East, a fact suggestive of origin of the game in Africa-Mediterranean region. The game may have been brought to Tulunadu by the Early Tulu immigrants.
Evidently, the Siri paDdana has evolved extensively since its inception during early years of Buddhism in Tulunadu. The implicit indications of Jainism attached to it in the current versions of Tulu Siri paDdana are only reflective of the theological evolutions in the Tulunadu with the passage of times.
Books for Reference
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