The poet, Kapilar of Vel Pari legend, like all poets of his era, was given to exaggerations. Sometimes the superlatives reached ridiculous lengths—literally.

He once sang in praise of a Cheran king thus:

Perhaps there is some nuance here that I’m missing. But as it stands, the poet described a chimpanzee. Then again, some experts claim that an adult male chimpanzee is seven times stronger than the strongest man. I suppose this makes the poem a compliment of sorts.

But for my purposes—researching to write historical novels set in ancient South India—extant writings such as this, which are the only records historians have to work with, provides obstacles but also opportunities.

Obstacles, because one cannot take the claims as literal truth. Even experts encounter difficulty deciphering the nuances. Opportunities, because one has leeway to be creative.

11 comments

  1. The exaggerations seemed to please the recipient, mostly the kings, of the time. Without such vast comparison, the compliment would just be ordinary. On the other hand, there are those who lost their lives when they daringly mocked or criticised the undeserving ruler. The interpretation is subjective. So art is not an easy form of livelihood, I must say.

    1. Very good observation, Windy dear

      Some readers in South India, a tiny minority, have lambasted me on Facebook because my novel Song of the Ankle Rings exposes certain truths – truths that makes them uncomfortable. Their criticism was not literary in nature – something all authors must accept – but on matters of facts.

      Hope you’re having a great week ahead,
      Eric

  2. Even if these ancient poets and chroniclers exaggerated their stories, which were probably not first hand, we have to thank them; for their records are often all we have,

    Your blog reminded me of the story of King Cnut (king of England 1016-1035 AD) and his attempt to command the tide to desist thereby getting his flattering courtiers wet. Regrettably I don’t read ancient poets and histories, as you do, and therefore have to rely,on,Wikipedia to read the differing accounts of this event.

    Early English history between 604 and 800 AD is recorded by the monk and historian, Bede, (known as The Venerable Bede) His coffin is in Durham Cathedral. Apparently he was a true historian not an entertainer or poet.

    I apologize for this ramble – your blog always gets me going.

    Jane

    1. I agree, Jane

      Some records are better than not having any.

      Thank you also for sharing the story of King Cnut – I recall reading something regarding him. Quite vague but you brought it to the fore.

      All rambling is welcomed 🙂

      Cheers,
      Eric

  3. When I was doing my Creative Writing study after retirement one of the things that surprised me was when people write biographies their memories have been affected by their perceptions in the present and may not and in many cases do not reflect the truth of what happened to them. Your last paragraph bought that back to mind. Never mind we still cherish those memories don’t we? 🙂

    1. Yes I have kept records through to about ten years ago then let it go. I like to look back over those notes as they are the only source of the past that is reasonably reliable. I did that for the same reason as you. In the hopes my children may find them interesting after I’ve gone. 🙂

  4. makes me wonder if the poet was taking a veiled swipe at the king. I’m not sure about the East, but often times the poets voice could one of dissent.

    As for the long arms, I’m sure 20 years ago I played rugby against someone who was at least part neanderthal, so maybe it was an accurate description !

    1. Hello Bill,

      First off, thank you for the review. Saw it last night 🙂

      You could be right regarding the poet’s intentions. Poets then, as now, were unafraid to speak up against injustices as they viewed it.

      The description of your rugby opponent gave me a chuckle. LOL.

      All good wishes for the week ahead,
      Eric

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