Creativity and the Tamils

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Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 10:19:42 +1100
From: Bala Pillai <>
Subject: [tamil] Q: The Thosai

Anbulla Dr Loga and other Thamil Innaiya Nanbargale,

Can you hazard guesses on the underlying reasons for the innovative health of the societal mind, at that time, that would have had Tamils to invent the thosai?

It is still fashion after hundreds perhaps thousands of years compared to more recent annual or less-than-annual fashions.

The design does not appear to have evolved significantly in the last hundreds of years.

And it is not just the thosai. The simple thosai is emblematic of the numerous other"quantum-leap-inventions-out-of-thin-air" of the time. One can include the saree, the veena, the cakra, the veshti, the iddli, the saambar, the rasam, the mirthaangam and kaanda kaundi. And numerousnumerous others. I believe little if any inventions of the Indian mind come remotely close to superceding the magnitude of the quantum leaps underlying these.

It is not the inventions per se that I am probing, but the state of what must have been an unusually innovative mind that facilitated these quantum leaps.

What could the causative factors for such an inventive state of mind be? And what causative factors would have had this high societal mind state recede?

My intuition suggests that societal mind states would have been greater contributory causes than sporadic individual "flashes of mind" - that is the state of the stage more than the state of the actor.

Your insight and that of other Thamil Innaiya nanbargal on possibilities would be most appreciated.

It could provide us clues on how to increase the probabilities of having an innovative stage occuring again.


Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 12:36:28 +0800
To: Bala Pillai <>
From: "Dr. K.Loganathan" <>
Subject: Re: [tamil] Q: The Thosai

Dear Bala,

I really welcome your questions. Though apparently  directed at Thosai , Idli etc ( I love them to this  day despite many other cuisines  I am  familiar with,) I take it that your central questions are about creativity and inventiveness, a topic that interests me immensely. ( Primarily I am still a psychologist) So I take it that the following is really what you want:

It is not the inventions per se that I am probing, but the state of what must have been an unusually innovative mind that facilitated these quantum leaps.

What could the causative factors for such an inventive state of mind be? And what causative factors would have had this high societal mind state recede?

The Tamil History:

The long Tamil History, perhaps the longest in the world shows an alternating rhythm of productivity and decline. During the Sumerian , Elam and Meluhha(Indus) period we have the Dravidians inventing the the art WRITING and developing it to the Syllabic Level,  later to be taken to the phonemic level in Tholkaappiyam. During this time there was also the invention of zero, the development of commercial mathematics, the science of astronomy  to go with the demands of agricultural science, the invention of Calender also as a part of it, the invention of burnt bricks originally to build Hill-like temples , hydrodynamics as practical science for channeling water for agriculture etc. Later it was carried along and developed further by the Baylonians but retaining Sumerian as the language of culture. Then about 1800 B.C a decline sets in perhaps due to the destruction and scatter of the Dravidian folks  from the Fertile Crescent. The second period of creativty begins from about 800 B.C to about 300 A.D during which period we have the Sangam Culture , the literary procuctions of which are still with us. This is termed the Third Academy in the commentary to IRaiyanaar Kalaviyal. Perhaps the Second Academy existed in Tamil Nadu or somewhere in India with Alavaay and Kapadapuram as its centers. I am beginning to think that the chief notions of this period can be recovered by studying the Upanisads against a good knowledge of Sumerian. There is so much Sumero Tamil in them that only painstaking and responsible scholarship can unearth.

Then begins a decline but during which we have  concern with ethics and the writing of  many great ethical masterpieces including the  world fame ThirukkuRaL. This slowly but definitely slides into the Bakti period and later to the philosophic etc. This lasts from about the 400 A.D to about 1300 A.D. During this period we also see the rise of the Pallavas Pandiyas, the droping away of the Cheras and the rise of the Imperial Cholas. Subsequent to this we have the enormous growth of the Siddhas, who developed alchemy metalurgy ,biology , Depth Psychology, Medical Science, Psychotherapy etc.

Roughly after this and at about the 16th cent. another decline sets in and the monastic culture with its isolation from society and extolling of celibcay comes to prevail. This monastic culture is a culture preservation rather than innovation and further devopment.

I would  like to interprete this rhythm in terms of the active presence and absence of AruL, divine Grace which correlates with the active presence and withdrawal of BEING. The people as a whole are collectively productive when BEING is actively present in their bosom. However when He withdraws, the ANavam comes to prevail bringing about  decline and nonproductivity.  The Anavam KILLS the productive urges thru causing a MENTAL DEATH.

Currently we are in this kind of pathetic state and my reasons for concluding thus  are as follows:

1. At the absence of the ACTIVE PRESENCE of BEING, the social leadership tends to be POWER centred. The political leaders want to be absloute MONARCHS, the religious leaders Gods. With the  adornment of saffron robes and the wearing of the religious symbols they DEMAND unquestioning obedience and compliance.  The institutional practices of all Athenams are designed  to foster this worship of Man- as- God.  The genrally religious leaders  also demand directly or indirectly being worshipped, treating them as living Gods. In politics any one who criticises the leader  even positively, is seen as an ENEMY who must be wiped out somehow or other. This may be an over simplication but generally true.

2. There is NO OPENNES in opinions-- the opinions thoughts etc have degenerated into dogmatic ideologies to be held onto unquestioningly only because one is heir to it.  There is NO SEARCHING FOR TRUTH in the genuine sense of the word but only attempts to RATIONALISE  a thought system one has inherited by virtue of birth. The Saiva Vella will never read the Vaishnava literature and vice versa.   Casteism has crept into metaphysical life itself making it stink  because of intelltual bankrupcy.

3. There is on the whole absence of COURAGE particularly the metaphysical variety. Most of the Tamil scholars still look for Western authorities for accepting a rejecting a scholarly  opinion or discovery for example such as that of mine : Sumerian is Archaic Tamil etc.  They do not SEE themselves as capable of such OPINION LEADERSHIP.

What is the solution?

The solution is already with us: the Culture of Tamil iNaiyam must be made the MODEL for the organaisation of the Dravidian cultural economic and political collectivities.

Why  do I think this way?

The Essence of the Culture of Tamil Inaiyam:

1. It is an organisation of volunteers with MAXIMUM freedom for individual expression. And where, as  Bala has mentioned any times, the individual is distinguished from his opinions and where criticisms are targetd at the opnions and NOT the individuals. This helps to create a LEARNING atmosphere that emboldens  the members to articulate their opinions fearlessly  and hence MORE HONESTLY.

2. Because by choice and conscious decision  it is  an unmoderated list, no one fears REJECTION and INSULT thereby. This makes them feel INTELECTUALLY  welcome and comfortable  and also encourages them indirectly  in their verbal expressions.

3. Most importantly, in the Tamil Net, the POWER has only  INVISIBLE PRESENCE and along with it,  its diffusion and transfer to the participating individuls. This makes each feel EQUAL , that he has the RIGHT and privilege to express what he FEELS like. This FREEDOM comes along with self-resposibilty and along with a collective inclination for self correction. This enables the Tamil Net  LEARN thru UNLEARNING as Bala puts it or as I have mentioned it,  DISCONSTRUCT  and through that release the unexpressed etc

I believe that these features, available in the organisational structure of Tamil Net' should be made to infuse  into all Tamil organisations: political, cultural, religious , economic etc.  It is a NEW KIND of organisational philosophy that would  unlease  the productive and creative forces again among the Tamils and make  them  great again.  Since joining the Tamil Net, I have felt extremely comfortable with it, more and more MOTIVATED to  write  and post , something I never felt as the chairman of the Penag Hindu Sangam some years back, and as the Secretary General of World Saiva Counsil more recently. I believe in autonomy and realize that I am maximally productive only within organisations that have power but NOT a power centre about whom I have to worry all the time and bent my ways against  my will to conform for fear of rejection, insult , nonrecognition etc.

The MAN must withdraw his egotistic power hunger to allow BEING be present visibly and actively, something that cannot be realised unless there are people close to BEING.



Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 10:14:45 -0500
From: Kumar Mallikarjunan <>

Subject: Re: [tamil] Q: The Thosai
ġ, :

At 3/15/00 12:36 PM +0800, you wrote:

>So I take it that the following is really what you want:

It is not the inventions per se that I am probing, but the state of what must have been an unusually innovative mind that facilitated these quantum leaps.

What could the causative factors for such an inventive state of mind be?
And what causative factors would have had this high societal mind state

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Kumar Mallikarjunan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biological Systems Engineering Department
312 Seitz Hall, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24060
Ph: 540-231-7937  Fax: 540-231-3199

From: "N. Swaminathan" <>
To: <>
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 11:14:35 -0800
<Bala asked>

>It is not the inventions per se that I am probing, but the state of what must have been an unusually innovative mind that facilitated these quantum leaps.
What could the causative factors for such an inventive state of mind be? And what causative factors would have had this high societal mind state recede?

Haven't you heard the saying "chance favors the prepared mind" (Louis Pasteur?)

Dosa and Idli, stape foods of the tamils and definitely a tamilian icons, must have been
developed in recent times.

Thankfully we have literature from 200 B.C. and onwards, that shed glimpses on the food habits
of tamils.

Ilango's Cilappathikaram, which advises against meat consumption ( )
 talks of  pongal, cooked lentils, honey and cooked rice.
( Ţ , , Ҩ, )

Pura nanuru poems (4-6th century), mention of a variety of animals , birds, fishes that were consumed by the people.
When the great poetess Avvai praises the magnanimity of the king for sharing his best drinks
with her(Ȣ¸ Ȣ 츣 ) , she reveals the then existing knowledge of fermentation.
It  was a cottage industry. ( Ǣ ). Their cooking technology involved
frying ( Ǣ ŨӸ), barbecue (Ǣ ؿ ), grinding
 (Ш ʺ) and of course boiling ().

The availability of rice, clarified butter, cooked lentils and tender mango pickles in a Brahmin household
is mentioned, alas, not dosa or idly.

What about Idly and dosa ? Are they the byproducts of frustrating attempts at home fermentation ?
An attempt to conserve and put to best use of the residual dough ?

There are remarkable similarities between Indian and Chinese cuisine, in the use of woks,
frying pans , noodle presses and steamers.  Ever wondered why the Indian ":Kozukattai" is similar to
Chinese "teacakes" though the filling is different? The visiting Chinese travelers (6-7th centuries?)
must have brought these into Tamil nadu.

The 9th century Kamba Ramayanam makes no mention of Idly or dosa. They talk of women with
circular luminent faces like the moon. The 12 century Alwars talk of Vishnu's Sudarsana chakra,
a circular saw like weapon in His index finger. Knowledge of circle, yes, but no comparison to dosa.

In the early 1600 hundreds the wandering British were puzzled by the disc patterns adorning the
tamilian village hut walls.  They found out that they cow dung patties left to dry in neat discs on
the wall to be used as fuel on rainy days to replace the un-ignitable wet wood sticks. There was a
 superior brain at work in putting the (animal) waste to good, realizing that a circle is the most
 efficient geometric design that will host more round discs on a square wall  Needless to mention
 the British brought with them a distillation technology that produced cleaner liquor.  They used
wheat and barley for fermenting.

So, in my opinion, somewhere along 1600 through 1700,   people must have begun experimenting home brews substituting rice for wheat, urid dhal for Barley , and a few adventurous among them must have hit upon throwing the fermented dough on a hot greased pan and eureka, they got  'dosa' !

Subsequent changes in ingredients, spices and fillings were routine refinements.

So it is a combination of need, existing knowledge, burning curiosity to explore, and the courage to take an unbeaten path.

But never think that the inventive mind has receded. It is alive and well in  many singles trying to cook their own meals and married men trying to help their wives. Did not an early  man who washed his meat in the sea water free of sand discover salt? Did not another  bungling man who dropped his meat on the fire meant to keep him warm ended up discovering cooking on fire ? Who knows what the future has in store for us all?

Next time, my friend, before taking the first bite on your hot masala dosa, close your eye for a minute
and thank the endless chain of inquiring minds over the centuries, that have helped  in the  creation  of that circular,
golden brown, aromatic creation with spicy fillings about to satiate your palate and make you crave
for many more !

Have a happy dosa day !

N. Swaminathan
Los Angeles

From: "C Kumarabharathy" <>
To: <>
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 10:44:11 +1300
Nan.Bala and fellow TamilNetizens

The question that Thosai, the Tamil icon poses is an appropriate Q in the present state of Tamils find themselves in. The Q throws a lasso for the untamed bull, - that's what the collective Tamil mind is now - untamed bull. This mind is trained to make verbal snorts. It doesnot know that it has lost its anchor.Not knowing our own state, but believing that we know it, is the basic error, as I see (in my self)-I am talking primarily about myself and sometimes about society here. Making such a statement  without supporting facts, you may say is  only  just  an  opinion.It is in a way - but  I have given reasons in my earlier postings, So I will not go over them here.

The basic Thosai Q or even any number of other didcoveries on similar lines:(We should include 'Kovanam'in this list. Poor man's underwear.It can hold its place among strategic discoveries)  Why have we as Tamils lost creativity? or really, we have to ask: Did we ever as "Tamils" have creativity  at all, in the first place?. Or are we just assuming this as an implied thing and trying to build an arguement on this premise?. I would answer the second Q. We had immense creativity. We all sense this in a vague way. That is why all this haji-bhaji about Tamil -this haji-bhaji in trying to capture it again thru words. I will stand by this position - that we as a Tamil nation, had creativity. Unfortunately it peaked at a time when the world was not ready.  Changing the track for the moment.

Love of nature, caring for the lives of all beeings seems to be the fountain of creativity. Not only in a few individuals but it is a widely prevalent ethos of the time. That is, the social values were conducive to  behaviour patterns which were earth & life friendly.It is not that everybody was awake to the beauty of earth, but it somehow made the life of a few discoverers easy. A venerated painter Amarasehkara used to ask the students, "see what is preventing you from painting, rather than trying to paint". Similarly, the inquiry as what is creativity ( aka motivation etc), becomes useful if it is inverted on itself. What prevents people from - let's say looking at nature.boredom-uneasiness at doing nothing. For various socio-economic reasons, vague uneasiness, boredom has become the underlying layer in modern mind.The blockages to creativity. Loga  calls it ignorance or malam.  Investgative tradition of saiva sidhantam and the Sidhar's traditions gives useful pointers, is Dr Loganathan's point.

Meykandar -the name Thathuvarayar is invoking literally means Truth finder.Deep mindsets makes rigid neural connections, and nerves are set in certain habit grooves. This explains the fact that however much one tries to "improve" oneself by reading Dale Carnige or any other management gurus,we come back to the same door as we entered. May be with a little polish.This is the power of vicious circle - brain cell connection. As an old man from Jaffna once said " ".

But it does not mean that we should not try management gurus and inspirators - far from it. When you know profoundly that something is not working, that itself is useful.Who knows!somethings click.People should not give up. one thing leads to another. There is an excellent book by Idries Shah( re-on-teur of Mulla's tales) on Sufism. It takes up the point "Learning to unlearn"

Tip for the day:
If a thing is painful then try: Remembering to forget the thing (or forget to remember the thing)


Bonus for the day:


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