The Puthucode Tradition
The recording of the sama chanting was held in Lakshmiswayamvara temple at Panjal. While returning after the inaugural function, Sri. L.S Rajagopal told me that a more important work remains to be done. He was referring to the chanting of Sama in the Kauthūma recension in the old Tanjavur Style preserved in the village of Puthucode in the Palakkad district of the state. Followers of this branch are predominantly settled in Tanjavur district of Tamilnadu. Some families from Tanjavur migrated to Palakkad some four 24
Vedic Studies in Kerala hundred years ago invited by the King. The circumstances that led to this migration according to legendary accounts are like this: Before accession by the British, Palakkad was ruled by a dynasty of Sekharavarmans. One king, while touring for inspection in disguise along the foot of the mountains happened to see a beautiful woman belonging to a low-caste nāyāt.i community. According to the then prevailing caste hierarchy, nāyāt.is were not only untouchable, but unseable by people belonging to higher caste. The King, however, was infatuated by her beauty. He concealed his feeling. His able minister seeing him dejected and disinterested realized that something has gone wrong. Being repeatedly asked by the minister, the king opened his mind. The minister pacified the king. After some days, the minister told the king that he has arranged a meeting with her in a hunting lodge in the foothills. There were two conditions: no light would be provided in the room and he should not ask anything to the woman. The king agreed and, as was arranged, spent the night there. Next day, as usual, he took his bath and started to the temple. The practice was that before occupying the throne the king should go into the temple and receive the prasādam from the priest. This day he hesitated to step into the temple. He had a prick of conscious since he had been polluted by the union of an untouchable. The minister intervened, brought his queen and informed the king that it was his lawful wife who spent the night with him yesterday. The king was convinced but not relieved of his sense of guilt.
manahkrtam krtam kāryam na śarīrakrtam krtam
yathaivālingyate kāntā tathaivālingyate sutā.
It is the mind, not the body, that commits sin. One embraces his wife the same way does he embrace his daughter. The mental condition makes the difference.
Yesterday while cohabiting it was the nāyāt.i woman in his mind, not his queen. Hence he cannot escape from his sin. That was his argument. His high sense of morality is revealed here.
The king received the prasādam without entering the temple. He came to the throne. His priests who were all Nambudiri Brahmins opposed his conduct. The king did not heed to their advice. In a fury, all the Brahmins left his kingdom. There was a big vaccum. None is there to perform the religious rites ! The Minister informed the king that he would bring greater Brahmin scholars, to replace the Nambudiris. He, thus, brought Brahmins from Tanjavur and settled them in Palakkad. The king gave them tax-free property and made one of them his minister.
The first agrahāra was known in the name of the king, Sekharīpuram. Migrations from Tanjavur continued. First came Yajurvedins then Smārtas followed bysāmavedins. There were eighteen settlements in the beginning, then it increased gradually to ninety two. Puthucode became one of the important settlements.
The village prospered around the Annapūrneswari temple. This is the story of migration of Brahmin’s to Puthucode some four hundred years ago. During this, period, many changes took place in Tanjavur, their original home. The Marātta kings who ruled the territory brought several scholars from Pune. These scholars introduced a different, more simpler method of chanting for
Sāmaveda. It was codified by Ramanatha Sastrigal who came from Maharashtra.
Ramanatha Sastrigal was endearingly known as Rāma, among his friends. Hence the style introduced by him came to be known as Rāmanna pāṭham. This style soon became very popular due to the royal patronage extended to it. The pāṭhaśalās were encouraged and students learning this style were attracted by extending liberal scholarships. In course of time, the original Tanjavur style faded into oblivion. It was completely washed away from Tanjavur. What remains as sāma chanting is the new style of Rāmanna. The only person who knew the prācīna style was Pandit V. Rama Sastri in the village of Ayakkuti in Shenkottah. He studied Sāmaveda from his father in the traditional way. He also knew the new style of chanting but uses only the old style in his native village. Rama Sastri was 72 years old when Sri. L.S Rajagopal visited him in 1986 to record his chanting.
The destiny to preserve the old style of Sāma chanting fell on Puthucode. The Brahmin settlement around the Annapūrn. eswari temple did not know the transformation going on in Tanjavur. They continued to foster their tradition. They preserved the original style of chanting which their forefathers brought from Tanjavur. The change brought out by the Maratti rulers after 150 years of their departure from their hometown did not affect them.
Puthucode flourished as a centre of Sanskrit learning producing many scholars in Sanskrit and vedic studies. In the beginning of the last century Puthucode Sundara Iyer, who retired as a judge of the Madras Hight court extended all help to promote the traditional studies. He founded a Sanskrit college there which worked well for some time. The second quarter of the last century saw a decline in all fields. Number of students opting for Sanskrit or vedic studies came down
heavily. The college could not withstand the onslaught of time.
The only one who knows the sāma chanting is Sri. P.K. Gopalan Vādhyār, well versed in gr.hya ritual chants. The original Tanjavur tradition of sāma chanting (prācīna) survives only through him.
Before long, I got an opportunity to address a Sanskrit conference in the Puthucode village organized by the Bharatiya Vidyabhavan. I used the occasion to inspire the audience by narrating their cultural background. The entire village was virtually shocked ! They could not believe that they are the inheritors of such a great tradition and the vādhyār whom they considered only an old priest as the sole repository of a great tradition. We discussed the methods to preserve this
tradition. All the villagers were unanimous and enthusiastic.
Soon they started a vedic class to train students. Due to their enthusiasm five students came forward to study under Gopala Vadhyar, four full time and an employee as part-time. They paid a monthly honorarium to Vadhyar and honoured him with an award in the next year. The villagers raised funds to record the entire chanting that Gopalavadhyar could do. Thus the prācīna style of Kaūthuma sāma was also saved from extinction.
I have often wondered as to how destiny made me its tool in achieving two of its great missions-namely preserving for posterity the Jaiminīya sama chanting of Kerala and the Kauthūma, Pracīna style, sāma chanting of Thanjavur. The thought makes me more humble.
Vedic Studies in Kerala - The Puthucode Tradition
The Puthucode Tradition