'Cummaa-iruththal' - 'Being Still'
What does the Tamil phrase 'cummA iruththal' signify?
An introductory inquiry
by Singaravelu Sachithanantham,
University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1. It is a rather common usage among the Tamils to say towards mischievous kids, 'cummA iru!' ['Be quiet!']. If one were to ask those who are unemployed, and those who are old, 'ippOthu enna ceythukoNdirukkireerkaL?' ['What are you doing now?'], they will usually say, 'cummAthAn irukkiREn!' ['I am only idle, or at leisure!', that is, 'Now I am without any employment!']. (In a way, it is indeed, somewhat pleasurable to be idle, or be at leisure!)
2. The Tamil word cummA is being used with various meanings. For example:
If one were to ask a visitor, 'enna kAriyamAka vantheerkaL?' ['On what particular business have you come?], some will say, 'cummAthAn vanthEn!' ['I came having no particular business' / I simply came'], but will later say about the particular business for which they have come!
One may urge another either to say a thing openly, or without hindrance ('cummA collunkaL', or ask another to give a thing gratis ('cummA kodunkaL').
3. It is also noteworthy that Miron Winslow's Tamil-English Dictionary (reprint, edited by K.L. Janert, Wiesbadan, Germany, 1977, page 481), besides mentioning various meanings of the term cummA, such as 'leisurely, uselessly, idly, gratuitously, freely, unhesitatingly, vaguely, merely, simply, etc.,) includes the following among the examples of the use of the word:
'cummA collu' சும்மா சொல்லு ['Say it without fear'];
'cummA kida' சும்மா கிட ['Lie down quietly'/Hold your peace']
'caththiyam pannic-connAnO, cummA connAnO' சத்தியம் பண்ணிச் சொன்னானோ, சும்மா சொன்னானோ ['Did he speak on oath or vaguely']
'pOyc-cummA vanthAn' போய்ச் சும்மா வந்தான் ['He went, and came with nothing'];
'avanaic cummA vidu' அவனைச் சும்மா விடு ['Leave him quietly alone']
'avanaic cummA viduvEnA? அவனைச் சும்மா விடுவேனா? ['Will I let him go scot-free?]
'cummA kodu/cummA thA சும்மா கொடு/சும்மா தா ['give gratis/'simply give']
'cummA iru' சும்மா இரு ['be quiet'/'be at leisure'/'be idle'].
4. The Tamil word cummA is also to be found in the Malay language in the form of Cuma, percuma, and bercuma, with the meanings of 'only', 'besides', 'to give, or receive a thing gratis (free of payment), and 'of no benefit', or 'useless'.
5. However, the Tamil phrase 'cummA-iruththal' would seem to have been an idiomatic expression relating to a spiritual mode among the Tamils since the ancient time. Thus, for example, Saint AruNakirinAtha-cuvAmikaL in his sacred poem entitled KantharalankAram (verse 17) refers to a devotee of ThirumurukapperumAn being in a state of quietude by contemplating the Lord's lotus-flower-like-sacred-feet, adorned with vedci-blossoms and anklets, as the symbol of protection.
Moreover, the saint also shares with us the Lord's gracious spiritual counsel to him, namely, that he ought to remain in the unique abode of quietude, of which no one else knows, instead of dwelling in the human body, composed of the five elements of nature namely, earth, air, fire, water, and ether (verse 45:1-2). God's gracious words are: "Be in a state of quietude, bereft of speech."
6. 'CummA-iruththal' in the sacred literature of the Siddhas such as TirumUla-NAyanAr's Tirumantiram signifies the spiritual quietude and silent language of God's devotees (T.A. Ganapathy 2006: 262-264).
The term mavunam, or mOnam, meaning 'silence', indeed signifies the state of quietude bereft of speech and thought. Such a spiritual state is different from mere dumbness. Quietude, which is bereft of action, is of two kinds, namely, 'one without speech' and 'one without thought'. Being without speech alone is mere dumbness.
'Who knows the truth of the purity, which is brought into being by God's Grace'? asks Saint TirumUla-NAyanAr: (Tirumantiram, 1859):
"vAkkum manamum iraNdu mavunamAm
vAkku mavunaththu vanthAlu mUnkaiyAm
vAkku manamum mavunamAm cuththarE
Akkumac cuththaththai yArari vArkaLE?"
7. A devotee may attain mukthi ('liberation') by being in the supreme state of quietude. That is to say, being in the state of quietude, bereft of one's AnkAram (ignorant egoism), enables a devotee to attain the state of eternal bliss:
"neenkAc civAnantha nEyaththai ninridap
pAnkAna pAcam padarA padarinum
AnkAr neenki yathanilai nirkavE
neenkA amutha nilaipera lAmE."
"mOnamkai vanthOrkku muththiyum kaikUdum"
Thus, it would seem that the traditional Tamil phrase cummA iru, addressed to mischievous children, is indicative of the fact that such children are provided with a rather rare opportunity of knowing about the spiritual discipline of being in a state of quietude since the time of their young age!
அருணகிரிநாத சுவாமிகள் அருளிச்செய்த கந்தரலங்காரம்
[Saint AruNakirinAtha CuvAmikaL's KantharalankAram],
விரிவுரை. உரையாசிரியர் திருமிகு கிருபானந்தவாரியார் அவர்கள்
[Thirumiku KirupAnanthavAriyAr's commentary] சென்னை [Chennai]:
வானதி பதிப்பகம். எட்டாம் பதிப்பு, 1986.
திருமூல நாயனார் அருளிச்செய்த திருமந்திரம் மூவாயிரம்
[Saint TirumUla NAyanAr's Tirumantiram mUvAyiram]
திரு. ப. இராமநாத பிள்ளை அவர்கள் எழுதிய விளக்கவுரை.
[Thiru. Ka. RAmanAtha Pillai's commentary] சென்னை [Chennai]:
திருநெல்வேலித் தென்னிந்திய சைவசித்தாந்த நூற்பதிப்புக் கழகம், லிமிடெட்,
GANAPATHY, T.N. "The mysticism of the Tirumantiram," The Yoga of Siddha Tirumular.
Essays on the Tirumantiram by Dr. T.N Ganapathy and Dr. Kr. Arumugam
(Quebec, Canada: Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications, Inc., 2006), pp. 262-264.
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