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Vol. XXX No. 19, February 1-15, 2021

The circle of love – does it really work for you?

Meenakshi Devaraj delves into ancient Tamil literature to tell us about a game that young lovers of those days played, to figure out the chances of their being united with the person of their dreams.

Koodal Lines.

The course of true love, it is said, doesn’t run smooth. And young lovers everywhere, all through the ages, have been anxious to know if they would prove to be the exception to the rule. Usually, the lovers are wary of directly seeking predictions about the future of their relationships, as this would mean giving themselves away. Instead, they resort to indirect means to figure out whether their love will flourish.

Modern-day youth play a game called Flames – Friendship, Love, Affection, Marriage, Enemy Sister – to calculate the outcome of their relationship with their love interest. In olden days, too, young people were anxious to know whether they would live happily ever after with the person they’d given their hearts to. How did they try to find out? Did they have an equivalent of Flames? The short answer is, Yes.

Early Sangam Tamil Literature talks of a game called Koodal Izhiththal (koodal in Tamil means join). It was also known as Suzhi Iduthal (meaning to draw circles) or Suzhi Kanakku – circle calculations). As the name implies, the game involved drawing, or trying to draw, circles.

After praying to all her favourite gods, a girl who was in love would close her eyes and start drawing a circle on the ground with her finger tip. If the line formed a perfect circle, she could infer that she would be united with her lover. If the two ends of the line didn’t meet, failure of the affair was indicated. Another version involved drawing a number of circles in a given span of time. The circles would be counted, and an even number indicated success, while an odd number of circles meant failure in love.

The earliest reference to this game dates back to the second century, and occurs in Kalithogai. A young girl wants to know if she would meet her lover again. So, she starts to draw koodal lines on the ground in front of her little house. Unfortunately, the line forms a crescent, not a circle, and she hastily covers it up.

In Mutholayiram, a third-century epic, a girl in love wants to know whether she would unite with her lover. She starts drawing a koodal line, but, fearing that it wouldn’t turn out to be a circle, she doesn’t complete the exercise, and only pretends to draw.

Religious literature also has references to this game. Here, the lovers aren’t men and women, but devotees, seeking union with a deity. Known as the Nayakan Nayaki Bhavam, the deity is given the role of nayakan (hero) while the devotee assumes the part of the nayaki (heroine).

Kutrala Kuravanji, a seventh-century poem, describes a scenario where a girl named Vasanthavalli tries to determine whether she would be united with her divine love, Lord Siva, by attempting to draw koodal lines.

Appar, the famous Saiva Tamil poet of the seventh century, takes on the role of a heroine when he talks about the Koodal Izhaithal game in two Tevaram songs. In the song dedicated to the Lord of Tirukozhambiam, he takes the role of a girl who has fallen in love with Lord Siva and describes the curiosity that prompts the drawing of koodal lines on the ground. In another song, he assumes the part of a young girl who is in love with Lord Siva of Murukal.The song tells how the girl desperately urges the koodal line that she’s drawing to form a circle, so that Lord Siva in Murukal would come to her.

Manikkavasagar, the famous ninth century Saiva Tamil poet, also describes Koodal Izhaithal. In his Thiruvasagam song, a young woman worships the Puliyur God, asking him to bring her lover back to her, saying she does not want draw koodal lines as she doesn’t want to face the fear and doubts about the outcome of the exercise.

Like the Saiva poets, Vaishnava Tamil poets have also sung about koodal lines in their religious texts. Andal, who lived around the seventh century, had a divine love for Lord Krishna and wanted him to become her husband. In her work, Nachiyar Thirumozhi, she has sung around ten songs about drawing koodal lines, seeking a sign whether her desire for union with Lord Kirshna would be fulfilled or not.

The ninth century Tamil epic Seevagasinthamani includes a scene in which a girl draws koodal lines to find out if she would be united with her brave lover or not. But the surface on which she drew the lines wasn’t ordinary ground – her land was so rich that the ground was strewn with pearls!

Koodal Izhaithal is also mentioned in Ambigapathy Kovai, a twelfth century Tamil poem. A group of young girls are playing. One of them, who is in love, feels restless and silently creeps away from the group.She tucks herself beneath a thick Thazhai (fragrant screw-pine) bush and secretly draws koodal lines to determine her luck in love.

A significant point in all these references is that Koodal Izhaital seems to be resorted to only by girls. Were the men of those times not interested in knowing whether they would win the lady of their dreams? Be that as it may, this game is referenced throughout Sangam Literature. But how many of today’s lovers play the game, or are even aware of it? That’s the question. — (Courtesy: Vidura — The journal of the Press Institute of India.)

(The writer, a software engineer, is interested in history and Tamil culture and has researched on Tamil Sangam Literature, Chennai history and temples. She runs a YouTube channel in her name, focused on Tamil Literature.)

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