KaRpu in Tamil Culture

From: "Mani M. Manivannan" <manim@ix.netcom.com>
To: <agathiyar@egroups.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 13:34:50 -0700

Subject: [agathiyar] Manusmriti and Women

>From an opinion piece in the Times of India at:

Is the Tamil notion of Karpu much different from the fidelity that Manusmriti demands from women? Kovalan of CilapathikAram who sought the company of women even in Madurai (supposedly after repentance) seems to have behaved like most other "normal" men of his period.  And yet, the same period seems to have demanded "Karpu" neRi only from women.  Isn't this too a patriarchal notion?

Mani M. Manivannan
Newark, CA, USA


The Speaking Tree: Men Do Not Revere But Fear Women

THE Manusmriti continues to be relevant for feminists today, given that the codes of conduct prescribed for men and women are of continued relevance in contemporary India. The Manusmriti, dated between the second century BC and
the second century AD, was written in order to consolidate and protect a brahmanical world view. As such, it aims to cover a range of human behaviour of which gender relations form a significant part.

The Manusmriti is well known for its misogynist views. Women are considered as being unfit for independence, and needing constant surveillance. (IX 3). They are denied access to upanayana (initiation), the central ritual for a brahmin. They are considered stupid, incapable of keeping secrets and potentially promiscuous. ``Good looks do not matter to them, nor do they care about youth; `A man!' they say and enjoy sex with him, whether he is good looking or ugly.'' (IX.14). Lack of fidelity to the husband, however, is seen as the worst possible transgression.'' A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is an object of reproach in this world: "She is reborn in the womb of a jackal and is tormented by the diseases born of her evil.'' (V 164)

For women, marriage is considered the equivalent to initiation, serving her husband and household chores as equivalent to living with a guru and the rites of fire. Thus, while men attain salvation through study, broadening the intellect and a one time ritual, women have to slave in the home all their lives for the same. The spaces available to women are reduced further by their lack of rights over parental property, as the following passage brings out: ``A woman's property is traditionally regarded as of six sorts: what was given in front of the (marriage) fire, on the bridal procession, or
as a token of affection, and what she got from her brother, mother or father.'' (IX. 194)

Within marriage, the husband has complete rights over the wife's body. The woman compared to a field, and the man to be the seed. There is little controversy about which is more important. ``Of the seed and the womb, the seed is said to be more important, for the offspring of all living beings are marked by the mark of the seed.'' (IX. 35)

The laws of Manu also focus on caste and sexual taboos. Sexual relations transgressing caste divisions are repugnant and unforgivable. ``No redemption is prescribed for a man who drinks the saliva from the lips of a servant woman, or is tainted by her breath or begets a son in her.'' (III.19) However, the punishment for such acts are less serious when committed by men of `higher' castes on servant women than when `lower' caste men cohabit with a brahmin woman. ``A man of the servant class who cohabits with someone of the twice born castes, guarded or unguarded, loses his sexual member and all his property if the person was unguarded, and his entire body and property if the person was guarded. (VII. 374).

Ingrained in the laws is a deep fear of women and women's sexuality. While women are given semi-divine status as mothers, their bodies are seen as fearful. A menstruating woman appears to bring to the fore these fears, as this passage reveals. ``A man who has sex with a woman awash in menstrual
blood loses his wisdom, brilliant energy, strength, eyesight, and long life.(IV. 41) It is further laid down that a priest should not look at a woman putting on make up, rubbing oil on her body, undressed, or giving birth. This would rob him of his potential for ``brilliant energy''. (IV.44)

Combined with this fear, there is a sense of hopelessness in trying to control women. The passages regarding the need for control and early marriage of women notwithstanding, the laws also bemoan the difficulties in doing so. ``No man is able to guard a woman entirely by force, but they can be guarded by using these means; he should keep her busy amassing and spending money, engaged in purification, attending to her duty, cooking food, and looking after the furniture.'' (IX.10-11). The Manusmriti laments that even by these efforts, women cannot be controlled. ``By running after
men like whores, by their fickle minds, and by their natural lack of affection, these women are unfaithful to their husbands even when they are zealously guarded here.'' (IX.15)

In spite of the oft quoted passage that orders men to revere women (III.56-58), it is fairly obvious that honour is due only to women who submissively conform to patriarchal norms. Many of these attitudes are a part of popular and official attitudes to women in contemporary India. Hence, examining the Manusmriti is no idle academic venture.

From: "Chandrasekaran, Periannan" <Periannan.Chandrasekaran@delta-air.com>
To: "'agathiyar@egroups.com'" <agathiyar@egroups.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 17:41:26 -0400

Please see the forumhub thread "akam poetry" where extensive discussions on kaRpu have taken place.

> Is the Tamil notion of Karpu much different from
> the fidelity that Manusmriti demands from women?
Manusmrti has never been accepted by the Tamil society.

> Kovalan of CilapathikAram who sought the company of
> women even in Madurai (supposedly after repentance)
> seems to have behaved like most other "normal" men
> of his period.  And yet, the same period seems to have
> demanded "Karpu" neRi only from women.  Isn't this
> too a patriarchal notion?

Let us examine the word kaRpu"
kal + pu: kal(luthal) = to dig.
That is "to dig one's heart and mind...to look for that bit of love that wil lmaintain the bond."
The Tamil concept of kaRpu  was born in a *matriarchal* society. Dravidian society is noted for its *matriarchal* nature.

It was only in the Tamil soceity that females could also be *major* god(desse)s  and those female goddesses could be  on par with male gods in power: ardhanaariis a prime example.That shows the power that Tamil women exuded...
it was the mental power...the power derived from a strong mind. Their strength derived from not giving in to sex or feelings of revenge etc. North Indians often think southern women are too powerful in their households.
Tamils are the "worst" among them..a Kannada friend thinks Tamil women dominate households!
Remember the Tamil woman who chased away the tiger with the winnow. When was the last time one heard about powerful female poets like  auvai, kAkkaipAdini, nachcheLLaiyAr, veNNiyak kuyaththi in other societies?
Another important point here: many think the concept of career woman arose yesterday...no... a farmer's wife who accompanied him in the fields while laying the baby sleep to nap under the shade of the tree is as much a career woman any today that holds an MBBS, MBA  or PhD.   It was in the very recent years with the rise of middle class that women on
large scale had stopped working and they started working again in the last few decades.

kaRpu has nothing to do with male chauvinism though the latter has tended to exploit it.

But note that women's position in Tamil nadu has always been better than in the west where there was pure male chauvinism and no concepts of kaRpu. With the Tamil society, kaRpu is deep in the heart and was not bodily at
all.Whereas the western society *chastity belts* were employed....whereas in the Tamil society's
stand is expressed very clearly in vaLLuvans' words:
ȸ () Ǣ
ȸ " (5th chapter).

It also shows that no amount of social security can prevent women also from engaging in "unkaRpish" ways.

The essence of kaRpu was not to deliberately let males frolick around while suppress females from doing so but for a woman not taking revenge on her man by herself engaging in such activities. That is why all other attributes
arise from kaRpu: patience, non-violence, introversion, courage etc. Nobody can enforce this. you can never enforce tolerance and patience.  Actually there is another very important kuRaL that is actually  the essence
of kaRpu as applicable to all genders.

â ."

Only on this value can a stable society that lasts forever and one that can foresee for milienia ahead can be founded.  Only such as society can give birth to seers and yogins. It is because of the stability in her resolve not compete in revenge with her man that a kaRpu woman imparts that she is identified with the pole star which is fixed in the heavens.
kaRpu provides the true sense of security in the psyche of a society... Women with kaRpu civilize the rest of the society.
Sex is an irreducible element that is you can express the feeling involved on other relationships with the feelings involved in sexual relationship but not the other way round.That is why the Tamil akam was founded on love even though its fundamnetal import was to be taxonomy of human feelings and emotions. So only when there is stability and fidelity in sexual matters that all other positive moral values take root. kaRpu is optimism, patience and the ultimate yoga (yuj = to look inwards).

Karma philosophy (or mentality to be more concrete) arises from fidelity, patience and optimism of kaRpu.

Tamils have always put in place cultural elements that withstand the test of time; everything they did have a purpose. If some of them are misused it is not the problem of the element. Take nAttiyath thamiz which somehow got associated with
We must try to raise the standard for both sexes in stead of lowering to the lowest common  denominator.
And feminists will do better if they remember the following:
" Ţξ ;
Ţξ 𸡧"
-.Ǩ , Ш šɡĢ ̿,